Acknowledging both the psychological impact of government virus restrictions and past government failures to make mental health a priority, French President Emmanuel Macron announced several measures during a conference with professionals who work in the area.
As the virus raced across France, “we didn’t want to see the importance of mental health, and we got hit in the face with the fact that health is all-encompassing,” Macron said. “The consequences of the pandemic are just as tangible in mental health” as in physical health.
He described a spike in the number of children seeking psychological treatment and in attempted suicides, notably among teenagers. About 20% of French people suffer from depression, he said.
The French government announced free therapy sessions for children and young people earlier this year, and on Tuesday pledged to extend that to everyone. Psychiatric treatment is already largely reimbursed by the state.
A French government survey earlier this month found that 10% of respondents had suicidal thoughts over the course of the year, double the figure found in pre-pandemic surveys.
In many countries, mental health professionals say isolation during the epidemic has amplified distress, and that lockdowns and curfews have also destabilized people. They describe a sharp increase in people seeking help with anxiety, depression, addiction and other conditions.
Health surveys in France last year pointed to a surge of depression most acute among people without work, those in financial hardship and young adults. The diversion of resources from mental health to battling COVID-19 also has affected patient care.
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French President Emmanuel Macron Says Someone Who Refuses COVID Vaccine Is ‘Not a Citizen’
French president Macron’s desire to ‘piss off’ unvaccinated individuals triggers outrage
Macron spoke candidly during an interview with French newspaper Le Parisien, during which he said that he wanted to make life difficult for individuals who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine. The French “sanitary pass” has prompted a number of protests and stiff opposition while the country nears 75% full vaccination.
“I really want to piss them off, and we’ll carry on doing this – to the end,” Macron said three months ahead of a presidential election. “I won’t send [unvaccinated people] to prison, so we need to tell them, from 15 January, you will no longer be able to go to the restaurant. You will no longer be able to go for a coffee, you will no longer be able to go to the theatre. You will no longer be able to go to the cinema.”
The French Parliament heard Macron’s comments during a debate over his proposed bill to tighten restrictions for unvaccinated individuals, leading to a swift and strong uproar in response.
His opponents have labeled the comments “unworthy” of a president.
“Even if one doesn’t share their choice, they have broken none of our country’s laws,” Marine Le Pen, Macron’s chief opponent in the upcoming election, told reporters late Tuesday. “He is continuing his policy of division, of pitting the French against one another.”
She later tweeted “A president shouldn’t say that…Emmanuel Macron is unworthy of his office.”
Leftist politician Jean-Luc Melanchon described the remarks as an “astonishing confession,” according to the BBC.
But Macron’s allies have defended the comments, with Stéphane Séjourné, a member of the European Parliament, arguing on Twitter that unvaccinated individuals have “bothered” the French by “forcing the rest of the population to endure restrictions.”
Debate over Macron’s bill continue into Wednesday as opponents still seek to delay its passage. Some of his supporters claimed to have received death threats because they are backing the legislation, The New York Times reported.
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