The Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has delivered her first annual New Year’s Day address, focusing on the themes of mental health, education, and the constitution’s upcoming 200th anniversary. Solberg promised the government will improve services for people struggling with mental illness, but said it’s also up to employers to support those trying to re-enter the workforce.
The Conservatives (Høyre) coalition leader launched straight into her theme of workplace inclusion, in the traditional speech broadcast Wednesday night on NRK state television. “After the holiday, many look forward to returning to work,” Solberg said. “We look forward to what the New Year will bring in opportunities and challenges. Some have taken the opportunity to set new and optimistic goals.”
But Solberg said for others, the future is more unsure. “For some, to find a job to go to is difficult enough. For some who have a job, it’s a struggle every single day to cope with everyday life. I’m thinking of those affected by mental health problems. Half of us will be affected during our lives. It is one of our major diseases.”
Take action early
Solberg noted how difficult mental health problems can be to identify, talk about, and seek help for. She said it’s important to take responsibility for our own mental health, but also to support the young and vulnerable. “We as adults must address bullying among children and teenagers,” she counselled. “A broken childhood can leave deep psychological scars. A good childhood lasts a lifetime.”
The prime minister said the government plans to strengthen mental health services in the coming years. “Today it’s not good enough,” said Solberg. “It must be easier to get help. Children and young people’s challenges must be seen early. If we don’t, small problems can grow large.”
Solberg also talked about the burden many people face when recovering from a mental illness and trying to return to work. “Some find that doors close when they have been without a job for a while. They have a hole in their CV.” But she encouraged employers to overlook such gaps, when people are competent, willing to work and seeking a second chance. “We will have a workforce with a place for everyone.”
Education was another key topic for the prime minister, particularly in the areas of science and mathematics. She said the fact almost a quarter of 15-year-olds were at critically low levels in maths is a worry, both for the students and society as a whole. Solberg promised massive government investment in schools, and urged parents to push the importance of education.
“It is expensive to manufacture in Norway. We can never be the cheapest. So, we must be smart. Therefore the government is very concerned with creating a Norwegian knowledge society.” Solberg alluded to the fact the oil industry can’t drive the Norwegian economy indefinitely. “It is knowledge that is the future oil for Norway.”
Solberg said she’s looking forward to marking 200 years since the birth of Norway’s constitution, Grunnloven, on May 17, 1814. “The new year will be full of celebrations. It’s seldom we are so proud when we celebrate the constitution on May 17. Then we celebrate the values that are important to us: democracy, community and freedom. The way we celebrate also says a lot. It is children, the future and optimism which are central.”
She praised Norwegians’ strong sense of nationalism, expressed as a positive force which doesn’t compromise Norway’s international solidarity. Solberg also lauded the work of Norwegians involved in aid and security campaigns overseas, working to create a better world. “We are deeply grateful for your efforts,” Solberg concluded. “We have you in our thoughts, especially now during the holidays. I wish you all, both at home and overseas, a very happy new year.”