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France to aid kids’ mental health with free counseling

REIMS, France (AP) — France’s president promised free psychological counseling Wednesday for children and teenagers struck by a wave of mental health difficulties that accompanied the coronavirus pandemic.

With a doctor’s prescription, those aged 3 to 17 will be entitled to 10 free sessions with a psychologist. The French presidency said the scheme will run for the duration of the health crisis.

President Emmanuel Macron announced the additional help after meeting doctors and families at a pediatric psychiatric unit.

He said that pandemic shutdowns of schools and out-of-school activities are “very traumatic for our young people.”

French schools are in the midst of another shutdown scheduled to last at least three weeks, part of measures to curb the country’s latest infection surge.

Psychiatrists say the deaths of loved ones with COVID-19, repeated disruptions to their lives and studies, and the clouding of their futures have had devastating effects on the mental health of alarming numbers of children and adolescents.

Doctors have reported surges of psychiatric emergencies involving young people, including attempted suicides, self-harming, panic attacks and other symptoms of mental anguish.

The latest surge of infections has pushed the government count of COVID-19 deaths in France to the cusp of 100,000 dead, a grim milestone expected to be surpassed this week.

Hospitals have more than 5,900 patients in intensive care, levels not seen since the first wave of infections in 2020.