French President Emmanuel Macron has promised free psychological counselling for children and students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Children aged between three and 17 will be entitled to 10 free sessions with a psychologist if they have a doctor”s prescription.
The mental health of young people has become a central concern during the health crisis, and one of the reasons why France delayed imposing national restrictions in March.
“Today we have a health problem that affects our children and adolescents, which is added to the epidemic,” Macron said on Wednesday.
The French President said that the closure of schools and activities has been “very traumatic for our young people” and said the scheme will run for the duration of the health crisis.
Macron spoke for more than three hours with carers, patients, and families at a pediatric psychiatric unit.
“We are seeing the rise of something that we did not experience during the first confinement, an anxiety and anguish among the youngest people, which is reflected in the figures,” he said.
According to surveys conducted by Santé Publique France, the proportion of French people reporting anxiety or depression has risen sharply since the first confinement, affecting nearly a third (31%) of the population.
Psychiatrists say the deaths of loved ones with COVID-19, repeated disruptions to their lives and studies, and the clouding of their futures have had devastating effects on the mental health of alarming numbers of children and adolescents.
French schools are in the midst of another shutdown scheduled to last at least three weeks, part of measures to curb the country’s latest infection surge.
Doctors have also reported surges of psychiatric emergencies involving young people, including attempted suicides, self-harming, panic attacks, and other symptoms of mental anguish.
Faced with this demand, child psychiatry services in France, which have long been understaffed, say they are overwhelmed.
Beyond the emergency package, Emmanuel Macron promised that more structural responses will be discussed at the conference on mental health scheduled for this summer.
At the beginning of April, the government launched a public campaign to encourage the French to “talk” about their psychological state and to remind them of the existence of online and mobile support.