Mental Health and Wellbeing of Children and Adolescents during and after COVID-19

Let us join hands to remove taboos and social stigma around mental health and invest in a community based holistic support for the most vulnerable children, adolescents and caregivers.

09 October 2020

The current COVID-19 pandemic has touched every aspects of people’s lives including mental health. At the same time, it was also obvious that this is still a forbidden subject and we have seen reluctance and hesitancy to acknowledge and discuss it openly among family members, peers and service providers. There is an urgent need of promoting mental health and wellbeing, and severity of the global burden of mental health problems for children, adolescents, parents and caregivers.

All children and adolescents are at risk of poor mental health outcomes. WHO’s Global Health Estimate from 2015 shows that up to one in five adolescents will experience a mental disorder each year, self-harm is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and depression is among the leading causes of disability. However, these risks are particularly acute for the most vulnerable children and families, for example those with disabilities, those facing violence, neglect and abuse in the home, or who live in humanitarian emergencies and low resource settings.

Much like regular health, children and adults experience mental health on a spectrum that ranges from are experiencing positive mental wellbeing to some mental health symptoms to disorder and psychosocial disability. The first and foremost step to address any mental health issue is to understand and recognize it and to create a supportive environment at home, in schools, in the community to tackle it.

Children’s and adolescents’ mental health can be promoted and protected, and therefore conditions can be treated. Awareness is growing about the need for holistic and community-based approaches to mental health care and psychosocial support, including promoting mental wellness, and approaches that address attitudes and behaviors that harm mental health.  The safe and meaningful engagement and participation from children, adolescents, parents and caregivers and the wider community is central to ensure improved access to mental health and psychosocial support for all.

It is encouraging that mental health and psychosocial support services are now seen as an increasingly urgent part of the COVID-19 response globally and in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina in March 2020, non-essential health and social welfare services were limited and/or interrupted and physical access to centres for mental health and centres for social welfare was interrupted by lockdown measures.  Children, adolescents, parents and caregivers, including those who experienced prior mental health issues and those who experienced mental health issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic due to many reasons struggled in accessing mental health and psychosocial support services.

Upon the request of the Federal Ministry of Health and the Republika Srpska Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, UNICEF has intensified its support to ensure access to mental health and psychosocial support, with a particular focus on children, adolescents, parents and caregivers as well as support aimed at prevention of burnout for teachers and professionals in centres for mental health and centres for social welfare.

With the support of the international community, in particular USAID and the Swiss and Swedish Governments, UNICEF delivered IT equipment such as tablets , smartphones and personal protective equipment to centres for mental health, centres for social welfare and  key child protection service providers to ensure and even restore  mental health and critical child and family welfare services. In partnership with the Associations of Psychologists in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Herzegovinian Association for Integrative Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy relevant professionals were trained and certified for virtual crisis interventions particularly through phone. This intervention was complimented through establishment of community-based support groups across the country.

More than 45,000 children, adolescents, parents and caregivers across the country have benefitted from this support, including 5,000 children and parents from direct mental health and psychosocial support services.

However, much more remains to be done to ensure greater access to tailored, holistic and community-based mental health and psychosocial support, especially for the most vulnerable children, adolescents, parents and caregivers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, during and after COVID-19.

On this year’s World Mental Health Day, UNICEF calls for:

•             Increased investment in mental health and psychosocial support services, integrated within health, nutrition, education and child protection systems and other community services and structures where children, adolescents and families have access to services.

•             Increased investment in family-centered approaches to mental health and psychosocial care of children and adolescents through parenting support programmes, promoting healthy family relationships, and supporting caregiver well-being and mental health.

•             Increased investment for schools and communities to ensure all children learn in a safe secure environment through supportive connections to teachers and that mental health and psychosocial support services are available for those children who need it.

•             Increase awareness on mental health issues and establish a supportive environment to address mental issues for children and adolescents