Beyond smiles. How are you really?
Campaign in support of mental health of children and adolescents in Bulgaria
What is mental health?
“Mental health is a part of physical health - we cannot afford to continue to view it as otherwise. For far too long, in rich and poor countries alike, we have seen too little understanding and too little investment in a critical element of maximizing every child’s potential. This needs to change.”
- Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.
Mental health is much more than the absence of mental illness and includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects our thoughts, feelings and actions and determines how perceive life, how we communicate with others, how we acquire knowledge and make choices.
According to UNICEF, a large number of children and adolescents, including in Bulgaria, are struggling with anxiety, depression, sadness and other negative emotions, and the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation, disrupted learning, along with concern for family income and health, is leaving many young people feeling afraid, angry and concerned for their future.
Data on the mental health of children and adolescents in Bulgaria and around the world:
1 in 5 deaths (among 15 to 19-year-olds) in the EU is caused by intentional self-harm (this is the second most prevalent cause of death of teenagers after road accidents – data from UNICEF’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia).
What are the challenges?
“When we ignore the mental health of children, we undercut their capacity to learn, work, build meaningful relationships and contribute to the world. We should break the silence on mental health, promote understanding, take seriously the experiences of children and young people, and tackle stigma.”
– Christina de Bruin, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria.
- There is a stigma around mental health and seeking help.
- Investments in the promotion of mental health care and the prevention of mental disorders in Bulgaria are insufficient.
- There is insufficient clarity on mental health issues and the services and resources available in Bulgaria.
- There is a lack of accessible and free programmes and resources to support the mental health of children and adolescents in Bulgaria.
Why is it important to change it?
The most common reason why teenagers in Bulgaria do not seek professional help when they have strong negative emotions is anxiety or shame (63% of the respondents) or not knowing where to look for help (17%), show the results from a survey of U-Report Bulgaria. To cope, most often young people try either not to supress their emotions (41%) or resort to harmful practices (33%). Data for Bulgaria based on the new global report by UNICEF “The State of the World's Children 2021” show that 11% of girls and boys aged 10-19 are diagnosed with mental disorder. Globally, only about 2% of government budgets are spent on mental health, and the lost economic benefits of tackling young people’s mental disorders globally amount to $ 390 billion each year, as estimated by the London School of Economics in the UNICEF report.
“I feel completely lost in my own thoughts. I’m not productive and I'm very lonely.”
– shared a teenager who participated in UNICEF survey.
UNICEF is guided by the adolescents’ right to quality mental health care and services. We know that young people are a particularly vulnerable group in terms of mental health due to the turbulent physical and emotional changes they undergo as teenagers. Adolescent mental health is the cause of a number of risky behaviours, including: self-harm, tobacco and alcohol consumption, drug abuse, risky sexual behaviour and violence, the effects of which last a lifetime. Mental well-being affects the capacity of young people to learn, develop and be useful members of society.
In order to support the children and teenagers in Bulgaria, together with our donors and partners, we plan to develop a 2-stage national programme to support adolescent mental health in the next 2 years:
I. A self-care mobile app and online platform for teenagers, which aims to be free, easily accessible and attractive to use, bringing together in one place:
Reliable and useful information from professionals about the most common conditions in teenagers, such as: depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide, substance abuse, eating disorders / sleep disorders; stress and burnout, bullying and online bullying, peer pressure, compromised family relationships and peer relationships.
Practical tips and building self-help skills: guidelines for managing and relieving stress; breathing techniques for panic attacks, relaxation and meditation; ways to cope with anxiety and bad mood; coping with loneliness.
Motivational personal stories of adolescents who have gone through various emotional and behavioural states: successful strategies for overcoming mental suffering through art, sports, music, volunteering, activism, promotion of mutual assistance.
Useful links – resources and contact details of existing support services: in the non-governmental sector, youth organisations, community, regional and government services in online and offline environments, which are accessible to children, teenagers and families in Bulgaria.
II. An online system connecting adolescents from Bulgaria with licensed professionals
Building an online system that legally, ethically and sparingly connects adolescents from Bulgaria with licensed professionals (psychologists, social workers, youth workers) for consultations and advice on the promotion of mental health and prevention of mental suffering. This will happen if there is a clear consumer need and sufficient support (including financial, institutional), if self-help and mutual aid are insufficient.
State institutions and international organisations:
- National Centre for Public Health and Analyses
- Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria
- State Agency for Child Protection
- Ministry of Youth and Sports
- WHO Office in Bulgaria
- Roditeli Association
- Child and Space Organisation
- Animus Association Foundation
- Social Activities and Practices Institute
- Patient Portal
- Digital Health and Innovations Cluster Bulgaria
- Ot Drugata Strana Foundation
- Single Step Foundation
- Bilitis Foundation
- National Network for Children
- Bulgarian Red Cross Youth
Youth networks and popular formats:
- Mailbox for Fairy Tales
- Teen Station
- U-Report Bulgaria
Official media partner