In its 2021 edition of The State of the World’s Children report, issued on Oct. 5, UNICEF calls on society to “break the silence” around mental health by tackling stigma, increasing understanding, and taking seriously the experiences of children and young people.
On My Mind: Promoting, Protecting, and Caring for Children’s Mental Health, a UNICEF report, investigates how risk and protective factors in the family, school, and community impact mental health outcomes and calls for global action to promote good mental health for all children.
COVID-19 has contributed to the present worldwide mental health crisis among young people in a variety of ways, according to the research, including locking youngsters out of schools, depriving them of the ordinary pleasure of playing with friends, and impoverishing their families.
It also emphasises that, even in the absence of a pandemic, far too many children suffer from psychosocial distress and poor mental health, including millions who are displaced from their homes, scarred by violence and major hardship, and deprived of education, safety, and assistance.
In the report’s prologue, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore states, “The COVID-19 pandemic has generated tremendous concerns for the mental health of an entire generation of children and young people, as well as parents and caregivers.” However, the pandemic is “only the top of a mental health iceberg that has been overlooked for far too long, and unless we act, it will continue to have terrible consequences for children and society long after the pandemic is finished,” according to the report.
Mental health is linked to important stages of brain development, which may be harmed by variables including toxic stress brought on by traumatic childhood events like physical and emotional abuse, chronic neglect, and violence. Mental illnesses, which are often overlooked, wreak havoc on children’s health and education, preventing them from attaining their full potential.
Greater investments are required to extend and expedite support services for families, parents, and caregivers, as well as to guarantee that schools are kinder, safer environments that can fulfill children’s social and emotional needs, according to the SOWC study. To handle complex mental health-related concerns, integrated methods are also required to improve and equip numerous systems and workforces.
“UNICEF hears it all across the globe, and I hear it from kids here at home,” said Michael J. Nyenhuis, President, and CEO of UNICEF USA. “We need to do a better job of supporting responsive, loving caregiving and ensuring that schools provide excellent programmes and strong interactions to assist mental health.”
UNICEF calls for immediate investment in child and adolescent mental health across all sectors, not only health, in its report. It advocates for evidence-based mental health treatments across a variety of settings, including parenting, education, primary health care, social protection, and humanitarian relief. It also asks for financial contributions from global and national leaders as well as other stakeholders, recognising the critical role of socioeconomic and other variables in shaping mental health outcomes.
Mental health receives just 1% of government health funding in low-income nations, and 76 percent of persons with mental illness in these countries do not get treatment. Fore says, “The task we confront is huge.” “Every nation is progressing in terms of mental health.”
While the effect of mental illness on children’s lives is immeasurable, experts at the London School of Economics analysing the cost of mental illness to economies estimate over $390 billion in missed contributions from young people every year. The yearly cost in the United States is projected to be $64.7 billion.
It is critical to improve data collecting, regular monitoring, and research in order to improve responses. “The picture we have of children’s mental health is incomplete,” Fore argues, “and it is disproportionately biassed towards the world’s richest nations.” “This means we don’t know enough about how children and young people in most regions of the globe deal with mental illness.” It also means that we have a limited understanding of the potential benefits and support that various communities and cultures may provide to children and families.”
According to the research, persistent stigma around mental health may prevent children and young people from getting treatment, restricting their ability to develop, learn, and flourish. It’s critical to recognise that “psychological pain is not aberrant conduct to be suppressed and kept away, but merely a natural component of human experience,” as Lea Labaki, a human rights advocate and SOWC report writer, puts it. Improving mental health literacy and ensuring that children, young people, and individuals with lived experience have a voice are among the other concerns.
UNICEF has been working to protect the mental health and psychosocial well-being of children, adolescents, parents, and caregivers in some of the world’s most difficult environments in recent years. In 2020, efforts were concentrated on resolving the pandemic’s broad effect on mental health. UNICEF provided community-based mental health and psychosocial assistance to 47.2 million children, adolescents, and caregivers in 116 countries, about twice as many as in 2019.