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EACEA National Policies Platform


7. Health and Well-Being

7.5 Mental health

Last update: 22 March 2024
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  1. National strategy(ies)
  2. Improving the mental health of young people

National strategy(ies)

In 2007, a Strategy of developing mental health care was adopted and in 2019, a Programme on mental health protection was developed based on some of the then statements, but still current:

  • mental health is still often seen as a low priority,
  • the dominant culture of neglect and exclusion of people with mental disabilities persists.    

The Strategy is not aimed solely on youth, rather on general population.

National Youth Strategy for the period 2023-2030 targets mental health of young people in the 5th strategic goal: “Created conditions for a healthy and safe environment and social well-being of young people”, particularly through the Measure 5.1: “Support to programmes that contribute to the development of healthy lifestyles and mental health of young people.” This strategic measure systematically addresses youth mental health by promoting healthy lifestyles, preventive actions, and creating awareness about health risks. It includes initiatives like innovative risk prevention programs and targeted efforts against substance use and mental health stigmatization. The measure also emphasizes mental health support for vulnerable groups, particularly young refugees, and encourages extracurricular activities to reduce alcohol use among youth in Serbia. Overall, it aims to systematically contribute to improving youth mental well-being.

The Action Plan for the implementation of the Strategy for the period from 2023 to 2025 outlines indicators to monitor the progress of Measure 5.1. including the number of young people participating in prevention programmes and activities to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent risky behaviour on an annual basis, the number of municipalities that have available and free counselling services for young people, the share of young people who sought help due to concerns about their mental health and the percentage of improved and harmonised public policies that contribute to the development of healthy lifestyles and mental health of young people.

The implementation of the Action Plan for the period from 2023 to 2025 has not undergone any evaluation yet. 

The National Youth Strategy 2023-2030 has not undergone any revisions/updates since its adoption in 2023. It was preceded by The National Youth Strategy 2015-2025. The main body responsible for its implementation and monitoring is the Ministry of Tourism and Youth.

Improving the mental health of young people

Programme on mental health protection in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2019-2026 year is a harmonized system of measures, conditions and instruments of public policy.  The programme predicts reform of the mental health care system in the Republic of Serbia and improvement of human rights of persons with mental disorders. It is aimed at general population, but young people (15-24) are recognized as particularly vulnerable population that needs:

  • more comprehensive preventive activities, primarily early diagnostics, as well as comprehensive assistance to children and young people and their families, at the level of primary health care. Primary prevention of mental disorders of children and youth as well as improvement of their mental health should also be implemented through the education system and forms of mass communication;
  • additional continuous education of existing staff in health centres
  • empowerment and assistance to existing health care institutions at the secondary and tertiary level
  • introducing norms for work in the field of child and adolescent psychiatry;
  • within the future centres for mental health in the community, form sub-units for mental health for children and young people and connect them with existing development counselling centres and youth counselling centres;
  • develop services for twenty-four-hour admission of emergencies in children and adolescents psychiatry in several institutions that have the capacity and resources for this activity;
  • expand the list of diagnostic categories in the field of mental childhood disorders and provide better access to psychopharmacotherapy for children and adolescents with mental health problems, from the budget;
  • improve cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary approach in order to enable adequate treatment of children and adolescents with behavioural disorders and chronic aggressive behaviour.

The programme envisages the procedures and software programmes for patient registration and monitoring in all mental health services, with direct cooperation between the services as well as cross-sectoral cooperation.

In the implementation of the Programme, the Ministry of Health cooperates with all partners from the health system, as well as to all other partners outside the health care system, which are marked in the Action Plan as holders of individual activities.

Funds necessary for the implementation of measures and activities contained in the Action Plan for the implementation of this programme will be provided from the budget of the Republic of Serbia in accordance with the limits set by the Ministry of Finance.

The Decree on the National Health Care Programme for Women, Children and Youth for early detection and adequate care of adolescents with mental health problems suggest the inclusion of mental health information in primary and secondary school curricula. Work on increasing the motivation of the adolescents to seek help and start treatment in a timely manner, as well as destigmatization of those seeking help or assistance are also activities proposed by the Programme.

In recent years, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the topic of mental health of youth has gained prominence in public discourse. Towards the end of 2023, a notable development occurred in prioritizing the mental health of adolescents and young people when a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed by representatives from six key ministries of the Government of the Republic of Serbia. This collaborative effort involves the Ministries of Human and Minority Rights, Education, Tourism and Youth, Labour, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs, and Demography and Family Care. The memorandum represents an initiative fostering important cross-sectoral cooperation in addressing mental health challenges among the youth.

The National Program for Youth Mental Health, developed collaboratively by NAPOR, OPENS, the Youth Umbrella Organization of Serbia, the National Association of Youth Offices, and the Association of Scouts of Serbia, with Ministry of Tourism and Youth support, was introduced at beginning of 2024. Representatives from ten cities and municipalities signed Declarations of Intent to implement mental health improvement programs, with plans for a nationwide rollout. The program involves resource analysis, action plans, capacity building for youth policy actors, and small grants to local self-government units. Specific activities for the initial pilot phase were presented by each association, to be implemented by March 2024.

Several national-level projects are dedicated to supporting young peoples’ mental health:

  • "Everything is okay" (Sve je OK) - an online platform launched in 2021 by UNICEF in collaboration with the Institute of Mental Health and other partners. It offers young individuals access to safe and pertinent mental health information, individual counseling through both phone and chat sessions.
  • NADEL  (National children's line) - a telephone counseling service that enables children and youth in Serbia to receive counseling support 24/7, if they find themselves in circumstances in which their rights are threatened, or in any other situation when they feel the need to talk to a competent and confidential person.
  • The National SOS Suicide Prevention Helpline - a project by the Ministry of Health and the "Dr. Laza Lazarevic" Clinic for Psychiatric Diseases, offers 24/7 phone assistance to those in crisis (available for general population including youth).