Fear, Loneliness and Grief – these emotions enveloped the lives of millions of children, young ones and their families as COVID 19 pandemic descended on the world in 2019. Into the third year, the pandemic is going to impact on their mental health being and well being for many moré years to come, according to a latest flagship report of the UNICEF.
In “The State of the World’s Children 2021; On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health” report, UNICEF pointed out that the pandemic represent only the tip of a mental health iceberg, an iceberg ignored for far too long. The report looks into the mental health, with a special focus on how risk and protective factors in the home, school and community shape mental health outcomes.
On the report, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H Fore said; “the COVID-19 pandemic represents merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to poor mental health outcomes. It is an iceberg we have been ignoring for far too long, and unless we act, it will continue to have disastrous results for children and societies long after the pandemic is over. We must be silent no longer. We must listen to the young people all around the world who are increasingly raising their voices and demanding action.”
Noting that the challenge that the world face was immense, she said that the global community has barely begun to address the mental health challenges the children and the young people face.
- More than 13 per cent of adolescents aged 10 to 19 years live with a diagnosed mental disorder as defined by the World Health Organization. This represents 86 million adolescents aged 15–19 and 80 million adolescents aged 10–14.
- 89 million adolescent boys aged 10–19 and 77 million adolescent girls aged 10–19 live with a mental disorder
- The prevalence rates of diagnosed disorders are highest in the Middle East and North Africa, North America and Western Europe regions.
- Anxiety and depression makeup about 40 per cent of these diagnosed mental disorders; the others include attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, intellectual disability, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, autism, schizophrenia and a group of personality disorders.
- A median of 19 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds in 21 countries self-reported in the first half of 2021 that they often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things.
- About 45,800 adolescents die from suicide each year or more than one person every 11 minutes
- Suicide is the fifth most prevalent cause of death for adolescents aged 10–19; for adolescent boys and girls aged 15–19, it is the fourth most common cause of death, after road injury, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence. For girls aged 15–19, it is the third most common cause of death, and the fourth for boys in this age group
- The annual loss in human capital arising from mental health conditions in children aged 0–19 is 387.2 billion dollars. Of this, 340.2 billion dollars reflect disorders that include anxiety and depression, and 47 billion dollars reflect the loss due to suicide.
- The number of psychiatrists who specialize in treating children and adolescents was less than 0.1 per 100,000 in all but high-income countries, where the figure was 5.5 per 100,000
- Despite growing awareness of the impact of mental health conditions, stigma remains a powerful force. Stigma – whether purposeful or not – blocks children and young people from seeking treatment and limits their opportunities to grow, learn and thrive.
- Mental health is a basic right and essential for achieving global objectives, including the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Exposure to at least four Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is strongly associated with sexual risk taking, mental health conditions and alcohol abuse; it is even more strongly associated with problematic drug use and interpersonal and self-directed violence.
- Risk factors for the child’s mental health include low birth weight, maternal malnutrition, maternal mental health and adolescent parenthood.
- Poor nutrition and violent discipline also are risk factors. Globally, around 29 per cent of children do not have minimum dietary diversity. In the world’s least developed countries, 83 per cent of children experience violent discipline from caregivers and 22 per cent are in a form of child labour.
- Despite links between early learning opportunities and child development, about 81 per cent of children in the least developed countries do not attend early childhood education.
- The relationship between poverty and mental health is a two-way street. Poverty can lead to mental health conditions, and mental health conditions can lead to poverty. Globally, nearly 20 per cent of children younger than five live in extreme poverty.
- Gender norms also impact the mental health of both girls and boys. Girls may face restrictive stereotypes about work, education and family as well as the risk of intimate partner violence; boys may experience pressure to suppress emotions and to experiment with substance use.
The State of the World’s Children 2021 also comes up with a guideline for coordinated action to achieve these goals. Commitment, Communication and Action are the three actions needed.
- Commitment means strengthening leadership to set the sights of a diverse range of partners and stakeholders on clear goals and ensuring investment in solutions and people across a range of sectors. It involves strengthening global leadership and partnerships and investing in support to mental health.
- Communicate means tackling stigmas around mental health, opening conversations and improving mental health literacy. It means amplifying the global conversation on mental health to raise awareness and mobilize all stakeholders to take action and facilitate learning. It also means ensuring children, young people and people with lived experience are part of the conversation, that they have a voice and can meaningfully engage in the development of mental health responses.
- Action means working to minimize the risk factors and maximize the protective factors for mental health in key areas of children’s and adolescents’ lives, especially the family and school. More broadly, it also means investment and workforce development across some key sectors and systems, including mental health services and social protection, and the development of strong data collection and research.