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Patricia Loncle: ‘Mental Health and the Well-being of Young People Have Become a Priority for European Institutions’

The Istanbul Youth Research Center recently completed a research project on suicides among young people in Turkey, highlighting the importance of discussing public health issues and linking them with youth studies. The Center aims to continue expanding public and scholarly conversations with multiple actors in the field, including prominent youth academics, to open up new horizons. In this context, Professor Demet Lüküslü, one of the founders and coordinators of the Center, conducted an interview with Professor Patricia Loncle, who is an expert in the field of youth policies, youth studies, and public health in Europe.

DL: We are especially interested in understanding the global mental health crisis with a special focus on young people. For so many of the youth researchers, discussions around the mental health crisis and the discussions around mental health crisis as a public health issue are new issues that started to be discussed only after the COVID-19 pandemic. However, you have been thinking about it for a longer period and you are indeed working in a ‘grande école’ of Public Health (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Santé Publique- EHESP). Can you tell us how you started to link youth research with public health?

PL: As far as I'm concerned, I've been linking youth and health issues for quite some time now (around 20 years). At first, it was probably a bit artificial, because I was at the School of Public Health, and I was trying to link my research topics with the School's interests. Then, with the gradual development of concern for young people's health, it became more and more obvious. I'd say that two directions were more particularly developed by researchers, health and youth professionals, policy makers: on the one hand, questions of the link between youth, precariousness, and health, with a more pronounced interest in local policies (in my research); on the other, questions of young people's behaviour, particularly from the point of view of product consumption (alcohol, in particular). On the latter point, I was particularly interested in the moral panics generated by such behaviour. The question of mental health was mainly linked to the first dimension, and I'd say it came about with the creation in France of the "Points d'accueil et d'écoute jeunes" and the "Maisons des adolescents" (20 years ago now). The aim of these services is to provide guidance and/or care for young people with mental health problems. Gradually, research began to focus on these services and their difficulties in "recruiting" certain young people, particularly rural and working-class youth. 

DL: While working on the issue of young people’s suicides in the case of Turkey, we were inspired by the short piece you drafted for the Youth Partnership [the link]. We know your expertise on European youth policies, we would be interested in hearing from you about the evolution of youth policies related with mental health and the well-being of young people in Europe. Do you see that this had become a priority for the European states and the European Commission?

PL: Yes, indeed, I think this has become a priority for European institutions. In my opinion, this is the result of three concomitant movements:

- the same sanitization of social issues as mentioned by France, reinforced by the COVID crisis;

- discourses and initiatives in favor of a transversal definition of youth policies, with the adoption since 2005 of the notion of integrated youth policies, which pushes for the inclusion of health issues (among others) in youth issues;

- a perception of health issues as politically neutral, which facilitates an approach shared by all European countries.

DL: We know that recently you have been thinking about new research methodologies and research techniques in different research projects. Do you have any suggestions concerning the methodologies regarding the mental health and well-being of young people?

PL: I think it's extremely important to develop action-research approaches to these issues (as to many others in the youth field). Indeed, a number of research studies have shown that youth health issues tend to be formulated very differently depending on whether we're looking at problems defined by adults or problems defined by young people. If we compare formulations, we realize that adults have highly medicalized, pathology-based approaches, based on the moral panics mentioned earlier, whereas young people tend to have more global interpretations (linking health and living conditions), both less alarmist in terms of product consumption and more insistent on phenomena such as isolation or eco-anxiety, for example. So, in my opinion, to best adjust professional and political initiatives, it's essential to make direct use of young people's expression and work on building bonds of trust with them.

Patricia Loncle is professor of sociology at the National School of Public Health, Rennes, France where she is working as a researcher and a professor. She received her habilitation in Sociology from Sciences Po Paris, France in 2009. She is the author of Politiques de jeunesse, les enjeux de l’intégration (Youth policies, the challenges of the integration, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2010) and co-editor of Young People and the Struggle for Participation with Andreas Walther, Axel Pohl and Janet Batsleer (London, Routledge, 2019). Her areas of research include youth policies (in European, national and local levels) and youth studies.



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