Focus on young people's mental health

24. November 2023
Dimitri Brooks

On 23 November 2023, the randomly selected U24 Future Council for Switzerland presented 18 recommendations for more prevention of mental illness among young people.

The 80 participants of the Future Council between the ages of 16 and 24 call on politicians, administrators and society to do more for the mental health of the young population in the areas of prevention, education, the workplace and online regulation.

37 per cent of young people in Switzerland affected

Mental illness is a global phenomenon that affects one in four people at some point in their lives. In a study conducted by UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 37 per cent of Swiss adolescents surveyed stated that they were affected by mental health problems. One in five young people with signs of an anxiety disorder and/or depression had even tried to take their own life. Around a third of those surveyed do not talk to anyone about their mental health problems.

The U24 Future Council criticises the fact that the national healthcare system is not geared towards prevention. Just under two per cent of healthcare expenditure is spent on this area. With their recommendations for action, the young people are calling for a national prevention law to prevent mental illness as a legal basis.

Regulation of social media

They are also calling for a national legal basis for the regulation of social media platforms. Among other things, digital offerings should be required to comply with age controls and offer youth-friendly versions of content. Advancing digitalisation is a possible cause of mental health problems.

The Council recommends the introduction of the subject "Psychology and Personal Development" at primary and secondary schools. This should make the psyche of children and young people more adaptable.

Protection against discrimination at work

The recommendations also envisage changes at work. Better regulation of availability outside of working hours and stronger protection against discrimination for those affected by mental illness should reduce stress and minimise the risk of mental illness. The introduction of a four-day week was discussed but rejected.

The recommendations of the U24 Future Council are based on three two-day meetings in the three language regions of Switzerland. More than 40 experts and stakeholders from research, administration, politics and civil society were involved in the process. The Future Council was monitored by independent bodies.

"Taking young people seriously"

"We have to take young people and their needs seriously, because they are experts in their own world. The Future Council sends a clear signal to young people that they are part of the solution and that they provide important impetus for strengthening mental health," says Bettina Junker, Executive Director of UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

The U24 Future Council deals with a problem identified by adolescents and young adults, which they consider to be particularly urgent and relevant to the reality of their future lives. Based on a specific question, concrete proposals are developed for this problem or topic area in order to actively help shape the future. The recommendations developed through the Future Council process are then submitted to the administration and politicians with concrete proposals for action.

The project sponsors are the Swiss UNESCO Commission and the Swiss Society for the Common Good (SGG). Pro Futuris, the SGG's think + do tank, is responsible for project implementation.

A reflection of the young population

The 80 members of the Future Council were randomly selected between June and August 2023 using a multi-stage sortition procedure. The composition approximates the young population in Switzerland in terms of age, gender, language, major region, citizenship, level of education, political views, urban-rural distribution and disability.

"With the Future Council, we are reaching young people who are otherwise not politically active," emphasises co-project manager Lara Oliveira König. "What makes the difference is the sortition procedure we used to reach young people who don't feel addressed by youth parliaments or sessions."

Topic survey before the Future Council

Prior to the start of the Future Council on Mental Health, a survey of 800 people provided an overview of the issues that young people are most concerned about. Five topics emerged from this survey: Education for equal opportunities, socially viable sustainability, mental health, migration and cohesion, and democratic participation. Subsequently, 20,000 young people were asked for their favourites, and just under 5,000 responded. The result: around 40 per cent considered mental health to be the most important issue.

Participant Milena was impressed by the Future Council in an interview: "At the Future Council events, I saw how other young people took the floor in plenary sessions and stood up for their opinions. That impressed me and gave me courage! I was initially afraid of speaking in public myself. Also because I'm still young. I thought: 'No one will listen to me anyway'.

"I would also like to get involved in politics in the future"

At the second Future Council weekend, I spoke openly and took part in the discussions. I quickly realised that this is totally my thing - I'm interested in politics! I now want to continue this and get involved in politics in the future. Because I want to be able to change things, even as a young person. I don't know how yet, but I will find a way."

On 18 January 2024, the Future Council's recommendations for action on the topic of "Mental Health" were presented to the public in detail and handed over to representatives from politics, administration and civil society.

Read more: Future Council U24