As COVID-19 affects mental health of young Austrians, the government spends 13 million euros in a 15-month program to facilitate access to therapy.
The program “Health beyond crisis” will start at the end of March 2022 with the objective to support children and young people to cope with mental health problems as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The minister of Health, minister of Education and the state secretary of Youth presented the initiative on February 18. The package was voted on by the Council of Ministers in July last year.
“More than half of young Austrians struggle with depressive symptoms, 6 in 10 have eating disorders, 47% suffer from a sleep disorder, 16% have repeated suicidal thoughts,” said Claudia Plakolm, 27 and Austria State Secretary for Youth, at a press conference.
In light of the situation particularly tougher during the COVID-19 pandemic, Austria decided to spend 13 million euros (US$14.6m) to improve access to mental health therapy for its youth.
The program is dedicated to all people under 21. It will also support up to 7,500 boys and girls particularly stressed by the COVID-19 crisis offering them 15 hours of help through individual or group mental health sessions.
There are 1.8 million people under the age of 21 in Austria according to the latest official data in 2019.
Parts of the funds will go to psychologists and psychotherapists so that they provide quick and free access to counseling.
“A drop in the Ocean” of mental health issues
Various mental healthcare practitioners, like pediatricians, school psychologists, youth welfare services will act as facilitators and referrers. A hotline will also refer to the appropriate counseling and treatment centers for a free initial consultation.
The goal is to create a sort of one-stop shop for all initial consultations before the actual therapy. “We take the burden of bureaucracy off of young people and their families,” said Claudia Plakolm.
Eva-Maria Holzleitner from the Social Democratic Party acknowledges it’s “better late than never”. But she also asks to “imagine if economic aid was paid out only two years after the start of the pandemic”.
The right-wing nationalist Freedom Party of Austria spokesperson Michael Schnedlitz considers the “excessive and wrong” COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the government made their children sick. He called for all measures related to the young to be lifted immediately.
For Yannick Shetty of the New Austria and Liberal Forum party, “mental health must not be a one-off funding project”.
“Easy access to mental health services is certainly an improvement. But in view of the immense psychological stress that children and young people have suffered in recent years, the measures remain a drop in the ocean,” says Christian Moser, managing director of SOS Children’s Villages. The non-profit organization considers Austria lacks 70,000 healthcare facilities providing mental health therapy.
The project will start at the end of March 2022 and will run until the end of June 2023.