7.8 Current debates and reforms
In 2020, with a Constitutional Tribunal’s decree, the abortion is only legal in Poland in extreme narrow conditions, which has created a freezing effect. Issues linked to dependencies and addictions are also part of such discussions. Poland definitely prefers the paradigm of total abstinence from psychoactive drugs, which significantly hinders harm reduction activities. In the same way, mental and ideological limitations affect the issue of treating people carrying HIV. There are no uniform and universal medical procedures in relation to them. This is all the more important as new social phenomena are emerging, which are the cause of this and many other infections, such as prostitution of young males or so-called chemsex which means taking drugs or consuming alcohol to enhance sexual pleasure which, in turn, leads to a total loss of control and increased exposure to infection. In the recent years increased sense of threat among LGBT+ youth and an associated is observed in mental health issues, such as depression or suicidal thoughts.
Activities aimed at the protection of the young generation from sexual abuse and its consequences are the subject of a debate currently in progress. The withdrawal of public funding provided to activities conducted by the Empowering Children Foundation (among other things in relation to providing the helpline for children and youth already discussed) is a tangible result of that dispute. The Foundation aims to protect the youngest citizens from harm and minimise the consequences that result from experiencing violence. Sexual violence is one of the frequently indicated forms which has resulted in the emergence of this issue in public debates.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted negative phenomena regarding the psychiatric health of the youth, which intensified the debate on children psychiatry in Poland and the necessary changes. In the period of the pandemic, there is a marked increase in the number of young people seeking help on the Telephone Helpline for the Young 116 111.
During the pandemic, young people (18-24), have more commonly experienced feelings of helplessness, depression, exhaustion, or burnout than the general Polish average. Such feelings are their most prevalent in 20 years. Already in 2014 to 2018, the sense of peer group support had deteriorated, which has only worsened during lockdowns. The experience of domestic and peer violence has emerged as an important effect of lockdowns – it’s been experienced by 27% of young people, with 9% having nowhere to turn for help. Peer violence has moved into the virtual realm. This all poses serious questions for the aftereffects of COVID-19 in the future, an issue which has not yet been properly engaged on in the public discourse. Long term effects of those negative trends are confirmed by data such as the cited increase in the number of suicide attempts among the youth and children.
In 2022 the Government presented the idea of programme Sport Talents (Program Sportowe Talenty). It is aimed at enhancing psycho-physical development of young people and to identify sports talents amongst them an, in the long run, helping them develop a professional career. Nevertheless, it is criticized for being overly focused on searching for talent among students nearing 18 years, and it neglects younger people who are being abandoned by the system. It is also criticized for its failure to meaningfully alter PE classes in schools, which are universally believed to require changes. As such, claims are raised that the funds earmarked for it could be spent better. Programme is currently being piloted in two voivodeships and will be extended to the whole country in September 2023.
At the start of 2023, the Parliament received a draft bill that would restrict the sale of energy drinks to minors. It contains provisions that would ban the sale of drinks with caffeine or taurine to people under 18. Sale of such drinks in schools is likewise to be prohibited. Advertising of such goods are also to be restricted, both formally (ban on TV ads between 6AM and 8PM, ban of ads in youth press and in outdoor), as well as with regards to content (a ban on associating energy drinks with energy, vitality, sexual potency, relaxation, rest, study, or work, life and professional success or sporting activities). The bill is currently in early stages of the legislative process and is awaiting a wider discussion.