In course of numerous studies, about 70% of young people in Latvia have recently experienced mental health problems and complications – depression or depressed mood, obsessive and disturbing thoughts, loneliness, exclusion from others and condemnation. Of these, only about one-fourth of young people consider their emotional well-being to be satisfactory. Adolescents indicate that they crave healthy support from their parents. In Latvia, consultations are offered by state-paid psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists, but waiting in line can last up to six months or more. It is planned to solve this problem with additional state funding, which will increase every year.
The prolonged period of isolation caused by COVID-19, the intense debates over vaccination, and the ongoing war in Ukraine have highlighted several integration issues in Latvian society. Negative changes in young people’s behaviour and habits have been noticed by both teachers and youth workers – young people have become more closed, socialize less with classmates, and avoid greeting other peers. Thus, the incidence of mental disorders among young people is consistently increasing. Just before May – Mental Health Awareness Month – in numerous countries around the world, this month’s Society briefing will look at the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukrainian war on the mental health of Latvian children and young people, as well as the support options provided by the state.
I Mental Health Indicators
To analyse the mental health of young people and young people’s perception of society in Latvia, an extensive survey was conducted among Latvian youth. Only 35% of young people believe that Latvia has an inclusive society. For 74 % of young people, it is important that their views are accepted. However, a significantly smaller share (47 %) of the surveyed admits that they are particularly good at accepting that others may have a different opinion or belief. The second largest – 50 percent – is only partially able to accept the difference. There are topics where the other’s point of view is harder to accept. Young people are freer to express their opinions among friends and at home (84 and 83 percent, respectively), while 61 percent can express their opinions freely among their peers, and 54 percent at school.
Regarding the mental health of young people in general, there are no significant improvements compared to the same survey conducted in 2021. Still, two thirds (66%) of young people admit to having experienced mental health problems in the last two weeks. In addition, an equivalent rate is observed in all age groups. The main mental health problems faced by young people are depression; difficulty learning or performing daily tasks; obsessive thoughts; irritability; feeling lonely or abandoned, among others. Compared to the previous year, physical health problems are significantly more often mentioned as one of the consequences of the pandemic period. Overall, the results show that only a quarter (26%) of young people surveyed consider their mental health to be good or exceptionally good. The vast majority are negatively affected.
In addition, a new study by the Adolescent Resource Centre of Latvia (ARC) shows that 70% of adolescents’ well-being depends on mutual trust in the family. Experts say mental health is a problem for about one in three young people, which means there will be at least three adolescents in each school and class who would benefit from specialist support.
When researching the functioning of young Latvian families, 75% of young people said that they feel very good at home, believing that the family is perceived as a resource that can help them in difficulties. Studies show that young people who did not have difficulty before the pandemic, even later, during the pandemic, were not able to continue their daily life normally. For young people in difficulty, their functioning quickly became critical. Mental health is a problem for about one in three young people, and one in three young people seek medical help.
When opening new branches in the ARC, long queues of teenagers for help are immediately formed,
the situation is described by the head of the ARC, Anete Masalska.
The service of the ARC was designed in such a way that no referral is required, a call is enough, often the adolescents call themselves. Girls make up 75% of all calls, while boys make up about 25%.
There is a growing debate in the public sphere that isolation, distance learning and distress caused by global issues are having negative health effects on young people. The ongoing hostilities in Ukraine also cause internal anxiety and panic among the people of Latvia. Unfortunately, one way, how the youth choose to ease stress, is drugs, and current observations are worrying. Specialists observe that young people in Latvia are increasingly using drugs – against the background of European countries, data and surveys show that young people aged 15 and 16 in Latvia use illicit drugs more often than the average in European countries combined, as well as the use of other drugs and over-the-counter medications is ever more increasing among young people, which poses a large-scale socio-economic issue.
II State-provided Support
To solve the above-described challenges of our time, the following types of state support are available in Latvia. First of all, there are consultations of a family doctor, who also has the right to give advice in case of mental illness and prescribe appropriate medications. Also, currently in Latvia, state-paid consultations of a psychologist and a psychotherapist with a referral from a family doctor are available, although in some cases one has to wait in line to see this specialist.
As the pandemic and the war prolong and exacerbate mental health problems, children and young people also have access to free psychiatric care. A psychiatrist is a direct access specialist, and a referral is not required, but a referral from another doctor is required for the first visit to be free. The state pays for health care services for the diagnosis, treatment, and medical rehabilitation of a person with mental and behavioural disorders according to the ICD-10 classification, including home visits by a psychiatrist to a psychiatric profile for patients who cannot visit a medical institution due to their health condition. Latvia has all medicines available in the EU for the treatment of depression and other mental disorders, including the most recent ones, which are also available with 75% state compensation.
In total, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Latvia is receiving additional funding starting from 2021 to increase the availability of psychological assistance and mental health care services by reducing the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related socio-economic phenomena on the mental health of the population.
Additionally, in cases when a child or adolescent has difficulties at school or with studies, it is also possible to use the services of a school psychologist. The school psychologist can also give counselling to the family and the adolescent, helping to assess the situation and choosing the most appropriate support. However, such a specialist is not available in all Latvian schools. Municipal social services can offer a range of support options, including psychological counselling, participation in adolescent groups and parental training. Adolescents and parents often have a negative attitude, fearing (often unreasonably) about the leakage of information at school between teachers and classmates, as well as from high-risk clients in social services.
Psychological support for adolescents is provided by the ARC – a free psychologist service administered by the Children’s Hospital Foundation, as well as the crisis centre “Skalbes”. In crisis situations, there is a hotline for children and adolescents, which can be used by adolescents in crisis situations as well as by families or other professionals. The phone works around the clock, even on weekends. Consultations are available in Latvian, Russian and English.
Thus, young people consider modern issues as pressing, feel the challenges of mental health issues and give less and less importance to social contact. Research shows that young people with very good mental health are more likely to fully accept others, so parents, friends and peers have a key role to play in the inclusion process. Additional attention should be paid to the peer environment, as the study reveals that only one in four young people feels fully accepted there. In the last two weeks, 2/3 of Latvia’s young people have experienced mental problems, which is a worrying indicator, including young people who are afraid to seek help and try to find peace in the wrong ways like drugs, which can have a serious impact on the young person, parents, and society. State support is satisfactory compared to the current situation in Western European countries, but state-paid services tend to be of variable quality and with long waiting times. In 2021, the Ministry of Health decided to provide additional funding for the psychiatric sector, so the shortage of specialists and their competencies will potentially be resolved in the coming years.
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 The survey was conducted by then international motivation program “MOT” together with the research agencies “Forta Research” and “Norstat” in February and March 2022
 International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision
This briefing was written by the Institute of Economics of the Latvian Academy of Sciences, in collaboration with the China-CEE Institute, and is the intellectual property of the China CEE-Institute. The original publication is available here: https://china-cee.eu/2022/05/02/latvia-social-briefing-impact-of-the-pandemic-and-war-in-ukraine-on-the-psychological-well-being-of-latvian-youth/