UNICEF's Milky Way Race for mental health of children and young people in schools

National and inclusive humanitarian Milky Way Race will be held from 9 to 18 September

07 June 2022
press konferencija

Zagreb, 7 June 2022 – Mental health problems are an important but often neglected cause of suffering that hinders the health and education of children and young people as well as their ability to reach their full potential. To encourage positive changes, UNICEF is launching a campaign to support the mental health of children and young people. This will include a humanitarian Milky Way Race 2022. The race will be national, taking place during 10 days on thousands of paths, via mobile application and live events, and will gather participants from all parts of Croatia around a common goal. With the funds raised at the race, UNICEF will support the implementation of the support program for mental health of children and young people in schools “PoMoZi Da”, implemented by the Croatian Institute of Public Health, with the support of Education and Teacher Training Agency. The Milky Way race is being organized under the auspices of the Ministry of Science and Education and the Ministry of Health.

According to the World Health Organization, half of all mental disorders begin before the age of 14 and three quarters by the mid-twenties. It is estimated that more than 44,000 adolescents (11.5%) aged 10 to 19 in Croatia have mental health problems.

In addition to the support of experts, it is important to provide children and young people with the support of adults in their everyday environment. Teachers are the people with whom students, along with peers, spend the most time during their stay at school. They may be the first to notice that students have mental health problems, but very often, they don’t know what to do about it. 

According to the Croatian Institute for Public Health research,

  • 98% of teachers are ready to seek help for students with mental health problems,
  • but most of them feel insecure (71%) in their own abilities to provide adequate support

Research highlights the need to improve the skills to support the mental health of children and young people in schools, and it is especially important to provide it in earthquake-affected areas where children and young people still feel the effects of traumatic experiences.

Through Milky Way Race UNICEF will support standardized mental health literacy program for teachers “PoMoZi Da” carried out by the Croatian Institute for Public Health and the funds raised will be invested in:

  • training of teachers and other professional staff in schools and dormitories to identify mental health problems in children and young people and provide psychological first aid and support
  • training of new educators for teachers and other professional staff in schools, in order to maintain the implementation of the program throughout Croatia
  • improving the competencies of educators in the field of helping children and young people who have suicidal thought
  • development of education with a focus on helping children and young people deal with trauma

It is estimated that by investment made in the period after the Milky Way 2022 Race

  • more than 400 teachers will be trained to support the mental health of children and young people
  • more than 20,000 primary and secondary school students will have direct benefits

“Mental well-being is key to the health and development of children and young people because it affects their ability to learn, develop, realize their potential and be productive members of society. In addition to school bags, students often carry many invisible burdens ‘on their backs‘, and pandemics and earthquakes have put their well-being at even greater risk. Many children and young people struggle with mental health problems in silence, discouraged by misunderstandings. The price of that silence for these children, their families and society is immeasurably high. Through a campaign focused on understanding, compassion, and positive values, we want to remove stigma and discrimination and help provide support to preserve and protect the mental health and well-being of children and young people, who are the future strength of the society we live in”, said Regina M. Castillo, Representative of UNICEF office for Croatia.

“The educational program PoMoZi Da was developed within the National Health Promotion Program Living Healthy, which through its activities recognizes health literacy as an important element of maintaining health, early identification of problems and providing first aid and support. The program was developed based on the research Health Literacy of Educational Workers in the Field of Mental Health of Children and Young People, which was conducted in 2017. Within this research, we wanted to determine how much teachers know about depressive difficulties among children and young people, what misconceptions they have and what they need to be more willing to provide initial support and assistance. Nearly 80% of teachers see themselves as a useful source of help for students experiencing depressive disorders, and almost all are willing to talk to a student and seek help. However, 70.6% at the same time stress that they do not feel confident enough in their ability to help. That is why this program is important and we are glad that UNICEF has recognized the importance and value of this program and decided to work with us to strengthen its national implementation in 2023 and 2024”, said prof. dr. sc. Sanja Musić Milanović, director of the National Health Promotion Program Living Healthy, Croatian Institute for Public Health.

“Along with all the challenges that accompany young people, pandemic has also taken its toll on socio-emotional development, and your noteworthy action is more than welcome. In the new Strategic Framework for the Protection of Mental Health 2022-2030, the Ministry also paid special attention to children and young people, through measures to improve mental health, all with the aim of further strengthening young people to develop personal potential”, said prim. Vera Katalinić Janković, special advisor to the Ministry of Health.

“Education and Teacher Training Agency is always ready to support humanitarian projects, especially those in which young people and care for their mental health are at the center of focus. Personally, for years I have been involved and working with associations which promote healthy living and prevention of early detection of malignant diseases. Program PoMoZi Da and UNICEF's Milky Way Race 2022 is again in partnership with the Education Agency, an umbrella institution that cares for teachers, children and young people”, said dr. sc. Dubravka Brezak Stamać, director of Education and Teacher Training Agency.

UNICEF's humanitarian Milky Way Race 2022 will take place on thousands of paths across Croatia over 10 days, from 9 to 18 September via mobile app and live events. Children, young people, families, runners, associations, clubs, and everyone else can join by walking, running, cycling, rollerblading or in wheelchairs. Their messages of support and donations will help raise awareness on the importance of mental health of children and young people in Croatia.

Registration for the UNICEF Milky Way Race: www.mlijecnastaza.hr

More information is available at the official Facebook event of the race and at www.unicef.hr where you can also find Tips for Preserving Mental Health.


--- UNICEF humanitarian Milky Way Race – achievements in the first 5 years ---

This year, the Milky Way Race is held for the sixth time in a row, and in the period from 2017 to 2021 it became an important platform for raising awareness as well as funds for key investments in child welfare through UNICEF programs in Croatia. With the support of more than 20,000 participants, in the first five years of the Milky Way race, HRK 4.5 million was raised to support the most vulnerable children in Croatia. With these funds, UNICEF supported the opening of a national human milk bank, provided financial support to foster families with the youngest children, provided equipment to all maternity wards in Croatia and supported the establishment of services for children with disabilities and their families.

Media contacts

Morana Tuškan
Communication Associate


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