UNICEF warns of impact of COVID on mental health of children and young people in Cambodia and globally

New analysis indicates lost contribution to economies due to mental disorders among young people is nearly $390 billion a year worldwide

05 October 2021
© UNICEF Cambodia/2020/Bunsak But
UNICEF Cambodia/2020/Bunsak But

Phnom Penh, 05 October 2021 – Children and young people could feel the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and well-being for many years to come, UNICEF warns in its new flagship report. The State of the World’s Children 2021; On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health is UNICEF’s most comprehensive worldwide look at the mental health of children, adolescents and caregivers in the 21st century.

According to the latest available estimates, more than 1 in 7 adolescents aged 10–19 is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder globally. Almost 46,000 adolescents die from suicide each year, among the top five causes of death for their age group. The lost contribution to economies due to mental disorders that lead to disability or death among young people is estimated at nearly $390 billion a year. Meanwhile, wide gaps persist between mental health needs and mental health funding. The report finds that about 2 percent of government health budgets are allocated to mental health spending globally.

In Cambodia specifically, UNICEF and partners have run a COVID-19 Socio-economic Impact Assessment Study throughout the pandemic, tracking the wellbeing of Cambodians amongst many indicators. In this survey, 45% of surveyed adolescents (youth aged 15 to 19) said they were worried about their safety during the pandemic, and 16% of adolescents said that they felt more anxious or depressed since the crisis began.

In addition, a Joint Education Needs Assessment was conducted by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, the Education Sector Working Group, and UNICEF after schools closed in 2020. It surveyed 15,000 Cambodians, including students, caregivers, educators and local authorities. It found that 58% of secondary school students reported experiencing at least one mental health issue. In addition, 43% of all respondents believed boys would be at greater risk of violence, abuse and exploitation during school closures, while 36% believed the same was true for girls.

“Children in Cambodia like the rest of the world, have faced so many challenges during the COVID-19 crisis,” said Foroogh Foyouzat, UNICEF Representative in Cambodia. “The closure of schools, the dramatic changes in social interactions and the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on Cambodian families have all come at great cost to the mental health of children and young people. This global report reveals just how serious and deep the problem is and  calls for timely investment and action on mental health - this is about saving lives and saving futures.”  

As COVID-19 heads into its third year, the impact on children and young people’s mental health and well-being continues to weigh heavily. The reports points that at least 1 in 7 children has been directly affected by lockdowns, while more than 1.6 billion children have suffered some loss of education. The disruption to routines, education, recreation, as well as concern for family income and health, is leaving many young people feeling afraid, angry, and concerned for their future.

While protective factors, such as loving caregivers, safe school environments, and positive peer relationships can help reduce the risk of mental disorders, the report warns that barriers such as stigma and lack of funding are preventing too many children from experiencing positive mental health or accessing the support they need.

The State of the World’s Children 2021 calls on governments, and public and private sector partners, to take action on “the three Cs” – Commitments, Connections and Conversations. This requires:

Commitments from governments to investing in child and adolescent mental health across all sectors, not just in health, to support a whole-of-society approach to prevention, promotion and care.

Connections available for all children and young people, which will mean integrating and scaling up proven interventions in the health, education and social protection sectors, such as positive parenting programmes and mental health services and positive relationships in schools.

Conversations to begin around mental health so that stigma is addressed and the experiences of children and young people are taken seriously, including to the level of shaping policies and programmes.

Media contacts

Rudina Vojvoda
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +85523260204;ext=434
Bunly Meas
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +85523260204;ext=435

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.

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