Young people: the « broken faces » of the health crisis

2019: Thousands of young people beat the pavement, demanding robust measures to get out of the climate runaway, which they were going to suffer the full force. Young people « hotter than the weather », with rage in their bellies, protesting against state inertia, organizing weekly school strikes to be heard. Thanks to their mobilization, awareness of the climate emergency has never been so strong. It has changed the political course.

Yesterday, young people were the embodiment of this hopeful generation. Today, under house arrest, they are the sacrificed generation. The « Greta Thunbergs » and other student leaders were largely silenced. A confinement that has been going on for months: not only is it a ban on gathering, on organizing. It is the stopper, the lid that insidiously suffocates their rage to live, their ardent desire for change. The young have become the voiceless. They suffer in silence.

From month to month, the turns of screw follow one another: (re)confinement, generalized wearing of masks in all places, introduction of a curfew, bubble of 1 person per household, increase in administrative sanctions, and now, since the announcement of the consultation committee of this January 22, travel ban… For the catering, cultural and youth sectors in particular, each consultation meeting is like a torture of the palms. Strictly speaking, there is no horizon for them. The political discourse follows that of the virologists, in a strange mimicry. Without taking the measure of the psychological violence that they make undergo to the population, to the « non-essentials » which plunge in poverty, anger or depression.

VIROLOGISTS DO NOT HAVE A MONOPOLY ON HEALTH

It is not surprising that virologists view health from the restrictive perspective of the virus. This is their area of expertise. But because the war against Covid-19 must be won, they forget that humans cannot be reduced to being « viruses on legs ». Health is, in essence, multidimensional. An armada of medical professions, including mental health experts, are working on this. However, they are not in the spotlight. What do they say? They are sounding the alarm…

In a study published last November 30, professionals in psychology, psychoanalysis, pediatrics and child psychiatry drew up a terrifying report on the damage inflicted by the health policy on children(1). A trauma that comes from a reversal of roles: adults infantilized by the State and children treated as adults to whom the joy of living, leisure, socialization, tenderness are removed. Withdrawal into oneself, regression of learning, a terrorized relationship with the body and with life, serious disturbances in living together and socialization. Communication, and its non-verbal subtleties, are mutilated by the mask, comfort, through touch, is repressed, etc. For some, school is now experienced in a phobic mode.  » It is no longer the place for learning socialization, but for learning social distancing. It is no longer the place for living together, but the place for marking the mistrust of all against all « (2).

For our teens as well, we take away their confident projection in life. De-motivation, low energy, and dropping out of school eat away at them, especially those who are facing financial difficulties. Sports, artistic and cultural activities, as a guarantee of emancipation, have given way to screens and social isolation. Cloistered, masked, guilt-ridden, their room has insidiously turned into a prison universe, where fear is invited.

In this state of affairs, the government has a heavy responsibility. Symptomatically, « dangerous » was the word chosen by Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on November 18 to justify the application of the « one person per household » rule at Christmas:  » We will still be dangerous to each other(3) « . The choice of words is worth its weight in gold. « Dangerous » or the repulsive effect. The other is a potential enemy that everyone must be wary of. It is in line with President Macron’s « We are at war » logic. A rhetoric that will have resurrected the practice of denunciation, a convenient way to volunteer to assist the police in the application of coercive measures.

The question is: what conditioning of terror and powerlessness do we want to imbue in the psyche of children, who are real sponges of our emotions, and of teenagers, in whom « eco-anxiety » is already taking its toll and for whom the need to escape the family cocoon and to rub shoulders with the outside world is vital?

In this regard, experts state in an article in The Lancet, « Child & Adolescent health », that social interactions are part of the basic needs of children and adolescents, just like the basic need to eat or sleep(4). In other words, « essential needs », whose renewed deprivation forces our young people to live in apnea for a long time…

In the name of extreme caution in the management of the virus, we are creating a generation of mentally ill young people. In this game, state authority runs the risk of being increasingly seen as dehumanized, robotized, an agent of control and surveillance, arousing a growing distrust in public opinion, especially among stigmatized youth.

The remedies: a radical change of course of the dominant media and politicians, who are forming dangerous relationships. This requires, among other things, a change of narrative, by rediscovering the deep sense of solidarity, compassion and benevolence; values that cannot be decreed by ministerial order.

DEFUSING THE PSYCHIC BOMB

For months, the official media have been feeding us the fear of death. They feed a binary discourse of stigmatization: the « conspiracy theorists », the « conspiracy theorists », etc. They also give us a pre-digested thought. In their eyes, the only valid way of reading reality is obviously that conveyed, first and foremost, by virologists and epidemiologists, for whom the government never does enough. Their appeal seems to be unidirectional: no more bans, no more coercive controls, on the grounds that the first wave must be stopped, the second prevented and contained, and then the third, even more dangerous, with its new variants!

Unable to see the crisis in 3D, they have de facto shifted our lives into « survival » mode. However, it is necessary to remember that besides the victims of Covid, there are other pathologies, including mental health, and finally, the economy. In the end, by following the sectoral and necessarily restrictive approach of virologists, the political authorities are following the path of the Pied Piper of Hamelin: saving lives by destroying them.

STIGMATIZED YOUTH, BUT WHO CAN TAKE IT…

This media hype has succeeded, in record time, in making the concept of « freedom » fall into the register of « shameful » words, especially for young people, who are in love with it. In the « covidian » era, the freedom they demand suddenly tends to be associated with selfishness or rugged individualism. But whose fault is it? Isn’t « every man for himself » the hallmark of the economic neo-liberalism that governs our society? Isn’t freedom the foundation of the European single market, which is based on the free movement of goods, people, services and capital? Isn’t one of the mantras of the EU precisely the increase of competitiveness, by means of competition? Isn’t « social Darwinism » the legitimate child of ultra-liberalism? Aren’t our young people immersed in an educational system that values, among other things, individual merit and performance?

Certainly, the principle according to which « the freedom of each person stops where that of others begins » is of burning topicality, just like the indispensable solidarity. In this spirit, young people who break the rules are in the wrong. But can we reasonably limit ourselves to a moralizing, guilt-tripping, repressive and punitive discourse towards them, given that they are the bearers of the values that we have instilled in them?

More fundamentally, we are surprised by the ease with which we have been able to switch, in a few months, from a western society of « child-kings », enamored of the pedagogy « it is forbidden to forbid », concerned with prohibiting all ordinary educational violence, by means of the adoption of « anti-spanking » laws, to a « covidian » society, where psychological abuse is practiced on a large scale, with the implicit consent of the silent majority.

Crisis management is taking on more and more the features of « shock therapy »: introduction of the « one person per household » rule that divides couples and siblings; assimilation of the child to a murderer if he or she has spontaneously embraced his or her grandparents; school intransigence in the face of the discomfort of wearing a continuous breathing mask; prohibition of hugging; prohibition of celebrating the end of exams with friends, etc. In a way, « loving each other » is prohibited, except in a virtual way.… Such are the drifts of a « hygienist », « sanitized » universe.

Mental health is in the blind spot of the health crisis. The government is blind to the growing suffering of the population, especially the young. However, it is a time bomb, especially since the covid-19 does not only destroy them mentally. It covers them with debts. To cushion the blow of the pandemic, the EU and its member states have brought out the heavy artillery. Overnight, we went from dogmatic budgetary rigor to dizzying public debt. At the expense of future generations.

Another sword of Damocles. The covid will have allowed this great leap forward in the digital era, whose impact on the environment is colossal. An ecological debt that ranges from the extraction of rare metals to the management of millions of tons of electrical and electronic waste produced each year. Not to mention the fact that unbridled, even compulsive, consumption of its multiple applications encourages unprecedented electrical waste. At this stage, digital technology is responsible for 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, which is twice as much as air travel. This carbon footprint is expected to double by 2025, and will undoubtedly fuel the « eco-anxiety » of young people.

The fear of death must not lead to the death of collective intelligence, common sense and benevolence. It is urgent to recover humanity.

Inès Trépant, political scientist and author of essays on European politics.

Notes et références
  1. « Impact traumatiques de la politique sanitaire actuelle sur les enfants: un constat clinique alarmant » (30 novembre 2020). https://reinfocovid.fr/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Politique-sanitaire-enfants.pdf
  2. Idem, p. 11.
  3. Propos du premier ministre Alexander De Croo, tenu le 18 novembre 2020. « D’ici la Noël, le coronavirus sera toujours là. Et les gens ne sont pas vaccinés. Nous serons encore dangereux les uns par rapport aux autres. Il faut oser le reconnaître ». https://www.rtbf.be/info/belgique/detail_coronavirus-en-belgique-nous-ne-voulons-pas-de-vague-de-noel-affirme-alexander-de-croo?id=10635002
  4. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(20)30186–3/fulltext, cité dans l’étude précitée, p. 3.
 
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