“Soul Vaccination”: Gergely Gulyás and István Ujhelyi to support common cause

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soul“The task and the goal are common, this is a cause that goes beyond party politics,” said Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás and Socialist MEP István Ujhelyi in a joint video following the professional consultation on the proposals on the mental health situation of children in the context of the covid19 epidemic.

As is known, in his capacity as a Member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Public Health, the MSZP politician had previously promoted a program called “Soul Vaccination”, in which he drew attention to the psychological impacts of the coronavirus and the need for government action in this area. Gergely Gulyás then invited the representative of MSZP and the professional organizations he had proposed for consultation, with whom a comprehensive and concrete package of proposals was prepared and presented to the government.

In addition to the MSZP representative, Zsuzsanna Szabó and Tamás Totyik from the Trade Union of Teachers, Erzsébet Nagy and Tibor Fehér from the Democratic Trade Union of Teachers, head of UNICEF Hungary’s children’s rights department Viola Szlankó, and State Secretary for Public Education Zoltán Maruzsa participated in the meeting on Monday afternoon. The joint package of proposals prepared by István Ujhelyi and the experts includes, among other things, an urgent and comprehensive assessment of the state of the school psychologist network currently in place and the mental health impact of the coronavirus epidemic on children. They also called for a general information campaign to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and the possibilities for getting mental health support. 

Reducing the workload of teachers and school psychologists, and increasing the number of school psychologists, including through the addition of qualified mental health professionals on contract, was a point of emphasis in the package.  Another proposal on the government’s table was that teachers should receive appropriate professional training in mental health as soon as possible, so that they can identify and help children suffering from mental health problems as a result of the epidemic.

In the video recorded after the meeting, Gergely Gulyás said: “We need to minimize the damage caused by online education, which is why the government has always been in favour of the introduction of face-to-face education in Hungary, when the epidemic allows it. The Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office said that there was no obstacle to the start of face-to-face education from September and that the government was open to professional proposals on the mental health situation of children. “We hope that we can eliminate as much as possible the problems caused by the challenging period of the past year and a half,” Gergely Gulyás said.

Following the meeting, István Ujhelyi, the initiator of the Soul Vaccine program said that it was an exceptional situation standing up for a cause together with a government representative, but, as he said, the mental impacts of the epidemic were also exceptional. Referring to a survey by UNICEF Hungary, Ujhelyi pointed out that more than half of Hungarian parents had noticed some negative mental changes in their children’s behaviour during the epidemic, but only a fraction of them had received help. Ujhelyi confirmed that the government had been constructive and open to the proposals made jointly with trade union and children’s rights experts. “If no concrete steps shall be taken after this, I promised Minister Gulyás that I will keep pushing, I will not let this issue fade out. This must be a cause that transcends party interests both in Hungary and the European Union”, István Ujhelyi concluded in the joint video.

Budapest/Brussels – 17.08.2021.