Europe is increasingly a region marked by cultural diversity and foreign-born populations. EU-wide, youth who are either foreign-born or who are native-born with foreign-born parents account for one in five 15 to 34-year-olds (OECD/EU, 2018). Their population share is increasing in virtually all EU countries, although the size and composition vary greatly across countries, reflecting countries’ different migration histories. As Europe seeks to emerge from the pandemic, teenagers and young adults have been found to be suffering from profound anxiety about their future, their mental well-being, education and job prospects. Add to this, research by Eurofound found that 55 per cent of young adults were at risk of depression.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a new initiative on mental health, to be presented in 2023, in her State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech on Wednesday (14 September).For young immigrants, the range of additional vulnerabilities such as higher incidence of poverty, overcrowded housing conditions, language barriers and a lack of inviting and engaging programmes designed specifically for their inclusion and integration needs, immigrants face additional challenges than the native-born. In Germany, for example, online tutorials were set up to compensate for the temporary closure of immigrant integration courses. However, such online learning has proved difficult for low-educated immigrants, especially at the early stages of language learning, leading to delays in both language learning and broader social integration (SOURCE: What is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on immigrants and their children? (oecd.org)). At the same time, post-Covid, the need for strong, inclusive, diverse and resilient communities has never been greater nor has the health and wellbeing of Europe’s citizens. Youth coming from native communities also face challenges and consequences of the COVID pandemic, which have additionally burdened their social connections and alienated them from their communities. Youth well-being is one of the most important European agendas. We know that being part of an engaging community gives us a sense of belonging. Researchers at the University of Manchester say diversity is associated with higher social cohesion and greater tolerance of each other’s differences. Similarly, a research team led by Singapore Management University reports people who live in racially diverse neighbourhoods are more inclined to voluntarily help others. So what can be done to improve the situation? While we are looking forward to the announced comprehensive approach to mental health being developed in the EU, there are some steps we have been taking for a while, and a project we are a part of. Well-being can be boosted by diversity. Embracing each other’s differences does that, and youth needs this approach very much. In September 2021, Outside Media & Knowledge developed an innovative project, together with partners across Europe, to help develop mechanisms for the well-being of youth, based exactly on diversity. This project became funded by ERASMUS+ fund and is empowering youth educators to use this approach.
In the process, this process called Wellbeing in Diverse Youth Communities (WELLHOODY) will equip young people to be active citizens, encouraging them to build inclusive diverse youth communities where everyone is welcome and can participate.The project website is coming soon, and we will publish more information about this project in the coming months.