Even before the crisis, children and young people were already bearing the brunt of mental illness and with no significant investment to address them, according to the latest edition of its flagship report, the state of the children of the world.
Globally, it is estimated that more than one in seven adolescents aged 10-19 is living with a diagnosed mental disorder, while nearly 46,000 die from suicide each year, which is among the top five causes of death for this demographic.
Still, wide gaps remain between mental health needs and mental health funding, with only about two percent of state health care budgets going toward mental health spending.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
The past 18 months have been tough on kids, said Henrietta Fore, the UNICEF Executive Director.
“With nationwide lockdowns and pandemic restrictions on movement, children have spent indelible years of their lives away from family, friends, classrooms, play – key elements of childhood itself,” she said.
“The impact is significant, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Even before the pandemic, far too many children were weighed down by the weight of unaddressed mental health issues.”
Ms Fore regrets that too little public investment is being allocated to meet these critical needs. “Not enough importance is given to the relationship between mental health and future life outcomes,” she said.
Lockdowns and losses
Preliminary findings from a UNICEF-backed survey of children and adults in 21 countries reveal the magnitude of the pandemic’s toll. Average. one in five young people often feel depressed or have little sense of things.
As the pandemic enters its third year, the impact on the mental health and well-being of children and young people continues to weigh heavily, the agency said.
According to the latest data, at least one in seven children worldwide has been directly affected by lockdowns and about 1.6 children have lost some education.
Angry and scared
Many children said they were afraid, angry and concerned about the future because of disruptions to their routines, education and recreation, as well as concerns about family income and health.
An online survey in China in early 2020, cited in the report, found that a third of respondents reported feeling scared or anxious.
Diagnosed mental disorders can significantly damage the health, education, life outcomes and earning potential of children and young people.
While the impact on their lives cannot be calculated, UNICEF estimates that mental illness costs countries nearly $390 billion a year in lost contribution to their economies, according to a new analysis from the London School of Economics.
Invest in change
The state of the children in the world The report calls on governments and their partners to promote the mental health of all children, adolescents and carers, as well as to protect those who need help while caring for the most vulnerable.
“Mental health is part of physical health – we can’t afford to keep seeing it differently,” said Mrs. Fore. “For far too long, in rich and poor countries alike, we have seen too little understanding and too little investment in a crucial element to maximize the potential of every child. This has to change.”
Recommendations include urgent investment in all sectors, not just health, and scaling up evidence-based interventions, including parenting programs that promote responsive and nurturing care delivery. Schools should also support mental health through quality services and positive relationships.
UNICEF also advocates breaking the silence surrounding mental illness by tackling stigma, promoting a better understanding of the issues and taking the experiences of children and young people seriously.