Avauspuheenvuoro mielenterveyttä käsittelevässä kansainvälisessä konferensissa 23.5

Dear participants,

my name is Li Andersson and I am very happy to welcome you to my home town Turku, for this conference which centers on a really important and crucial theme for Finnish society and especially for Finnish youth.

Finland is known both worldwide and across Europe for an excellent educational system and a fairly equal system of public social and health care services, available for all. Despite these important achievements, we have big problems concerning mental health issues and marginalization of youth. This societal contradiction is one which has drawn attention, but maybe still not as much as it should. When it comes down to the question of why so many Finns, and especially young Finns, are feeling so bad, very few have any clear answers, let alone suggestions on how to turn this huge trend.

Looking at the last decades, a clear turning point for Finnish society was the harsh economic depression which the country went through during the 90’s. The economic depression led to many companies going bankrupt and to big cuts in public expenditure both on state and municipal level. On the state level, big cuts were made in social security and on the municipal level cuts in the public services, many of them directed to families and young. Employment was as high as 20 per cent.

When we today talk about the around 40 000 young Finns who are defined as marginalized, which means they are not working, not studying and not registered as unemployed, we are talking about persons who grew up during this depression and who now, for different reasons, are doing nothing.

This phenomena has been one reason that the Finnish expression “children of the depression” has been formed. A research financed by the Academy of Finland, based on broad analysis of different official registers, paints a very worrying picture of these children of the depression. The study focuses on all Finns born in 1987 and on how their lives have developed. The results gained lot of attention. According to the study, every fourth person born in 1987 has a crime record or a criminal offence, every fifth has had mental health problems and every sixth has no secondary education. At the moment, more than 400 000 Finns are using medication against depression. The amount is ten times bigger than in during the depression in the nineties.

Another expression of the mental health problems that are very alarming for our society, is the broadly publicized fact that every day, 5 persons under 30 years of age are retired. The most common reason is depression and other problems related to mental health. As the broad study of the age group born in 1987 rightly states, is this no isolated phenomena. Problems like poverty and mental health issues are very often linked to problems in the childhood and linked to societal class structures, which means that problems are inherited from one generation to the next.

These statistical facts tell a story about the Finnish society which shall not be overlooked. The human consequences of these statistics are too often people losing their opportunities too early, losing their faith in the future. Some like to translate the human consequence into one of money, talking about one lost young person costing a million euros for the society.

Too much of the debate has focused on the very tragic school shootings and other extreme acts of severe violence that have occured. The focus on very severe and serious but nonthelesss a very small number of acts leads the discussion in another direction than the story that these statistics are telling: and that story is of a large number of people. It is the story of problems that concern most Finns either directly or indirectly in their everyday life, of problems which are interconnected with the daily life that most Finns live.

The risk is the same as with the important but at the same time very labelling debate around marginalized youth, that we mystify and stigmatize problems that should be discussed and debated broadly. People talk about services and support that “some” need without seeing how important those services and that help is for the whole of Finnish society, that it is not a question of “them” but about “us”.

A young Finnish girl published a very good blogtext yesterday, which got a lot of attention in the social media. She writes about her own experiences, about how no-one needs to be stronger than he or she really is and about how the stigma surrounding mental health issues meant she got the help much later than she could have. She was so ashamed of her condition, because of all the stereotypes surrounding problems with mental health, and writes about how people are made to be “others”.

Instead, we should be better at talking about us. About what help is needed, and about the services not working at the moment. Youth marginalization is not a just a question about a lack of proper jobs for young people, it is a question of class structures and people not getting help early enough. We need to focus on eradicating class structures and poverty, keeping our educational groups small, on having enough staff in schools, on more resources for public health care, on working family support and social services and on reforming our democratic structures to make it possible for everyone to participate in decision making. Our labour market needs to be reformed to make space also for part-time work, and for workers with special needs. Above all, we need to stop acting as though we are afraid of the unknown, stop thinking about marginalization or mental health problems as something that is a tabu.

With these words, and as a representative of the children of depression, as I am too born in 1987, I wish you all very welcome to Turku and wish you all a fruitful and interesting conference!


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