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Ministry focuses on youth in new 10-year mental health strategy

The plan aims to beef up mental health services in schools and roll out a new suicide prevention programme.

Henkilö tukee hoidossa olevaa potilasta pitämällä sitä kädestä kiinni.
The Finnish Psychological Association says more nurses are needed. Image: Markku Rantala / Yle
Yle News

A comprehensive new mental health strategy released by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on Tuesday aims to place special emphasis on preventive services for children and young people.

The plan – the National Mental Health Strategy and Suicide Prevention Agenda 2020–2030 – proposes measures such as increasing mental health services in schools and establishing a new suicide prevention programme. Other focus areas include mental health as capital, mental health rights and good mental health management

Currently schools have the option to decide whether or not to provide mental health services for pupils, so the ministry aims to ensure that such services are more available in the years ahead. It also wants to introduce psychosocial methods – which support individuals the context of psychological factors and the social environment – incrementally, starting with the most common disorders.

"Current treatment services are primarily based on general supportive discussions. In situations where this dialogue is not enough, psychosocial methods proven to be effective are rarely used," senior ministerial medical affairs adviser Helena Vorma noted.

She added that new support and treatment methods will be used to address this shortcoming. The aim of the new programme is to introduce depression prevention and care services, followed by methods for the prevention and treatment of anxiety disorders and other conditions in the future.

Furthermore treatment methods will be adapted for regional use in collaboration with the adolescent psychiatry units of local university hospitals.

Call for more mental health professionals

The ministry said that it is aiming to train workers for positions in low-threshold student care. Alternatively, school services could be provided by employees of local youth psychiatric units. Mental health services targeting young people will be available as a pilot or as a formal programme from next autumn.

An estimated 19,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 18 years old need support to deal with depression or anxiety disorders annually.

According to the Finnish Psychological Association, additional workers would be needed to apply new treatment methods and therapies at educational institutions.

"It is essential to ensure that we have a sufficient number of professionals to provide mental health services as needed. For example, it would be good to increase nurses' methodological skills. Above all however, we must ensure that there are enough of them to offer short treatment spells," said association chair Annarilla Ahtola.

The ministry’s long-term plan also takes aim at correcting deficiencies in adult mental health services. The goal is to offer treatment for non-critical mental disorders at primary health care institutions such as health centres between 2020 and 2022.

More comprehensive crisis services for suicide risk groups

The ministerial strategy also lays out a suicide prevention programme that will run until 2030. It follows a previous plan introduced in 1991.

The number of suicides reported in Finland was on the decline until 2019, but that trend appears to have tailed off. In international comparisons the number of suicides in Finland is still high, although there are large regional variations.

The most common reasons for suicide in Finland are diagnosed depression (59%), serious physical afflictions (46%), substance abuse disorders (43%) and personality disorders (31%).

The new suicide prevention programme calls for the provision of comprehensive low threshold crisis services nationwide, easier and faster access to care for persons at risk of suicide and the drafting of legislation to limit at-risk persons’ access to methods and tools to commit suicide.

In addition to these measures, the ministry’s plan calls for more timely statistical and research data on the age and location of suicide cases as well as the methods used, for more effective prevention programmes.

Earlier this year the Finnish Medical Society Duodecim published Current Care Guidelines to provide hospitals and health centres with more consistent practices to care for persons who have attempted suicide.

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