Even in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the topic of mental health has assumed increasing importance within the Italian public debate. In this article we investigate the position of young, the demographic group that has paid the highest price for the psychological effects of the pandemic. Mental health, in fact, is becoming at the center of the national political agenda also thanks to the great value it is assuming for boys and girls, as shown by movements and initiatives that have taken hold in recent years.

Mental health is the number one problem for young people

Figure 1 is taken from a study by the working group MUSE – Social changes, Evaluation and Methods, promoted by IRPPS, the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies of the National Research Center (CNR). It reveals that adolescents have identified the problem that most afflicts the youth universe today as the problem depression and discomfortfollowed by addictions (drugs, alcohol and gambling) and psychological problems specifically linked to the pandemic.

Figure 1. Main problem of young people by sex. Source: Tintori et al., The state of adolescence 2023. National survey on attitudes and behaviors of students in public secondary schools.

This perception is also confirmed by the data relating to the psychological well-being of young people, which we reported in a recent investigation published in “Buone Notizie” of the Corriere della Sera, highlighting how today’s young people are much worse off than the generations that preceded them and that their condition has worsened considerably especially in the Covid years.

The mental health index with which, within the BES Report of Istat, the psychological distress of the population is measured, in fact it shows a more evident worsening – from 73.9 to 70.3 between 2020 and 2021 – compared to other age groups. And after a slight improvement in the 2022 data, 2023 records a decline again (71.0). Precisely this worrying picture is leading to an ever greater consideration of these growing needs, both at a European and Italian level.

Ask me how I’m doing: grassroots commitment to mental health

After two years of the pandemic, in February 2022 the Middle School Students Networkstudent association of secondary schools, and theUnion of University Studentsa union-inspired university student association, have started a social campaign to draw attention to psychological well-being.

Ask me how I’m doingbecause no one has ever asked me and my generation” we read in the first post on the Instagram page @chiedimicomesto, managed in collaboration by the two organisations. It’s still: “Mental health today is a stigma, even though it affects each of us. […] Psychological support is a right, but there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure it is guaranteed and normalised.”

With the collaboration of SPI CIGL and IRES Emilia Romagna, “Chiedimi Come Sto” has become a survey disseminated via the web between the end of February and the end of March 2022, intercepting approximately 30,000 students. The results allow us to detect that the 60.3% of boys and girls is worried about your mental health. It also highlights the spread of various elements of discomfort during and after the pandemic: 28% of the sample suffers from eating disorders, 14.5% have had episodes of self-harm, 10% have taken substances, 12% have abused of alcohol, 60% lost the will to do, 78% used i social excessively.

Ask me how demonstration I am about to ask politicians for more attention to the mental health of young peopleAsk me how demonstration I am about to ask politicians for more attention to the mental health of young people
Photo: social page Ask me how I am

These are certainly alarming data, on the basis of which the organizations involved have continued their work of raising awareness and dissemination via social media, but have also supported concrete political actions.

In March 2023, for example, following the “Ask Me How I Am” mobilization, a bill was presented to the Chamber for the establishment of the psychologist in schools and the start-up of training and support paths for teachers, students and families. Bill 691 was then brought to the Senate and assigned to the Culture and Cultural Heritage, Public Education (VII) and Social Affairs, Health, Public and Private Work, Social Security (X) committees together. There are, however, no further developments at the moment, despite the demonstrations organized by “Chiedimi Come Sto”, both in May 2023 and on 15 March, and the participation of opposition representatives including the secretary of the PD Elly Schlein, the group leader of the M5S in the Chamber Francesco Silvestri and the AVS deputy Elisabetta Piccolotti.

The commitment of the movement, despite the slowness of the institutions, has therefore not been exhausted and, in an attempt to contribute not only to the political but also to the social debate relating to psychological well-being, a new ambitious research project. With Greenpeace Italy And ReCommonand with the scientific support ofEuropean Institute of Psychotraumatology and Stress Management (IEP), an investigation was launched to study the spread of solastalgia, better known as “ecoanxiety”. The questionnaire distributed starting from May 2024 aims to measure the impact of the climate crisis and the extreme events linked to it on under 35s at a traumatic and psychopathological level. Its results will be available starting from September, but it is certainly an important step, carried forward by boys and girls personally, compared to a 360-degree understanding of the factors that impact youth psychological well-being.

Lilla Movement and MaBasta: understanding the specificity of needs

Psychological well-being is a highly multidimensional element, which encompasses numerous areas of the life of young people and adolescents and which, therefore, requires differentiated responses. As revealed by the aforementioned “Chiedimi Come Sto” study, and as emerges from the priorities relating to mental health identified by the Middle Student Network in the Da Zero a Cento proposal, the dynamics and needs relating to mental health are multiple. Below we will delve into two of them in particular.

Eating Disorders

An important element in the discussion is certainly the Eating Disorders (DCA)a phenomenon for which assistance at a national level is currently very lacking and which, as the image below shows, presents a growth constant of new cases in recent years, going from 680,569 in 2019 to 1,680,456 in 2023, an increase of more than 50%.

In 2021, around this theme, a movement of young people, adults and families was created which gave itself the name of Lilac Movement. This organized a series of street demonstrations which contributed to including the DCA within the 2022 Budget Law (Law 30 December 2021, n. 234, art. 1 paragraph 687), on the basis of which the Ministry of Health is was responsible for “seeking to identify the specific area of ​​nutrition and eating disorders (DNA) whose services are currently included in the area of ​​mental health” as part of the updating of the LEAs, the essential levels of assistance, for to which the same budget law has allocated 200 million euros (ibi., art. 1 paragraph 288).

Furthermore, “pending the update” the Fund to combat nutrition and eating disorderswith an endowment of 15 million euros for the year 2022 and 10 million for the year 2023. Precisely this fund or, better, the announcement of its cancellation in the 2024 Budget Law led to lilac-colored demonstrations in dozens of Italian squares last January, promoted by associations linked to the theme (Fondazione Fiocchetto Lilla, Animenta DCA, but also Ask me how I am).

Demonstration of young people to demand greater attention for their mental healthDemonstration of young people to demand greater attention for their mental health
Photo: social page Ask me how I am

Following this “lilac wave” the Government did an about-face. With an amendment in the Milleproroghe decree, he added 10 million to the Fund for 2024 pending the implementation of the first 16 new LEAs related to the DCAs, scheduled for 1 April 2024 and postponed again to January 2025. In the meantime, a bill majority related to eating disorders came under discussion at the 10th Senate Commission.

Bullying and cyberbullying

Another dynamic that sees young people as committed protagonists is that relating to bullying and, in particular, to cyberbullying and cybersecurityphenomena which, according to the study “Healthy behaviors in school-age children – a focus on peer violence and bullying in Europe, Central Asia and Canada” by the World Health Organization, are experienced by 18.9% of children and by 19 .8% of girls.

A virtuous example of young people’s interest in this topic is the project Stop it, created by Mirko Cazzato, who was awarded student of the year 2021 by the organization “Your Edu Action” for his “great social commitment and positive impact in the fight against bullying”. The initiative is made up of an innovative protocol, born in 2016 in a high school in Lecce and developed in detail over time, to the point of containing a list of useful actions to prevent, combat and potentially eradicate all forms of bullying, cyberbullying and body shaming (the act of mocking and/or discriminating against a person for their physical appearance, ed.) at school age.

This objective wants to be pursued through peer interactions and bottom-up actions, by the students themselves; the project team, in fact, is made up of children between 14 and 18 years old, who have intervened in over 500 Italian classes to date. Also because the actions contained in the MaBasta Model require first-person intervention from the students involved, which can be facilitated by the presence of their peers.

Responses from young people… and adults

Young people, as we have tried to summarize in this article, are therefore trying to act as protagonists to claim your psychological well-beingboth with political tools and through awareness-raising and dialogue initiatives.

Among these there is Paranoia Festivalorganized in March 2024 in Milan at the BASE cultural center by a group of young people between 20 and 30 years old, for “taking time to look inside ourselves, call our emotions by name, look our fears in the face and listen to those around us”. Singers, artists, psychologists and experts gathered in a moment of music, dance and testimony to help eliminate the stigma related to mental health and to shape, together, new ideas of well-being.

Contribute in this definition activity new welfare paradigms and of new health essentials it must not be the exclusive prerogative of the world of youth, who are even more scared of a changing world (and climate), a growing body and an enormously precarious future. In fact, one is needed transgenerational cooperationThat primarily knows how to build a shared definition of mental health and who then collaborates synergistically to guarantee it equitably across the national territory.

The sensitivity of young people towards the psychological dynamics that involve them personally must, therefore, make them interlocutors in an institutional, social and political dialogue that is capable of shaping, together with adults, greater well-being.

Cover photo: Social page Ask me how I am