A worsening mental health situation for Europe’s children

New UNICEF report exposes breadth and depth of adolescent mental health issues in Europe

06 October 2021
Girl in Ukraine

BRUSSELS, 15 October 2021 – In a report that should set off alarms across European capitals, UNICEF today warned that suicide is the second leading cause of death in Europe among young people. Only road injuries take more lives of people aged between 15 and 19 years old.

As COVID-19 continues to play havoc in lives, the Brief - a European analysis of UNICEF’s flagship publication “The State of the World’s Children Report: On My Mind” – provides an analysis of trends affecting children and examines children and young people’s mental health and well-being in Europe. In doing so it provides disturbing data on the stress young people are under, together with clear recommendations for governments across Europe and for the European Union institutions.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted some factors that put our mental health at risk:  isolation, family tensions, loss of income,” said HRH Queen Mathilde, Queen of the Belgians, today at the presentation of the EU brief in Brussels. “Too often children and young people carry the brunt of this. We must invest time, effort and commitment into strengthening and improving our health and social systems to provide every child access to a mental well-being and a happy childhood.”

The report also finds that 19 per cent European boys aged 15 to 19 suffer from mental health disorders, followed by more than 16 per cent of girls the same age. Nine million adolescents in Europe (aged 10 to 19) are living with mental health disorders, with anxiety and depression accounting for more than half cases.

“The European analysis offers some grim reading, but some very clear recommendations,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Representative for European Union Institutions. “We now know that the cost of inaction is great – in terms of the toll it takes in human lives and on families and communities and financially – but also that there are clear interventions that national governments EU institutions, families and schools can do along the way. This is where our focus should be.”

New analysis for the European Brief of The State of the World’s Children: On My Mind indicates that the annual loss in human capital arising from overall mental health conditions in Europe in children aged 0–19 is Euro50 billion*-

“This report is coming at a very important time for children and young people, it records a crisis that has sadly been building, but my fear is what’s to come. This crisis is being made worse by the pandemic. Policy makers and adults have an opportunity to do something about it now. Invest in us now, before it is too late. Let us not be the lost generation to COVID.” (Erika, 17, Ireland)

“Schools should not just be about academics, they are places where we can learn to build healthy societies. Supportive programmes in schools to be able to talk openly with our peer group on what stresses us, on our wellbeing, work. We have solutions, we just need them to be prioritised and implemented effectively.” (Elliott, 16, Ireland)

“The COVID-19 pandemic is also a mental health emergency that is impacting children and young people across Europe” said European Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. “A truly European Health Union will help to invest where is most needed, promoting positive mental health and access to support for our children - the future of Europe.”

Next to investments in quality childcare, parenting, and family-friendly measures across all sectors, UNICEF identifies 5 key priority interventions for European institutions and national governments:

1. Support interventions to facilitate vulnerable groups’ access to mental healthcare services and improve regional infrastructures.

2. Include access to mental health services in national action plans including the opportunities offered by digital and online technologies to reduce gaps in access to mental health support.

3. Provide programs at school to build awareness and emotional coping skills for adolescents; integrate mental health counselling services; training for teachers and staff; creating safe spaces for children to discuss and share. Complement with positive parenting programs that prevent domestic violence. The EU should support the ‘safe to learn’ initiative to end violence in and through schools so children are free to learn, thrive and pursue their dreams

4. Invest adequate resources to train health and social workers on mental health to support services for children on the move. 

5. Incorporate targeted actions on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing in official development assistance dedicated to human development as well as into humanitarian programs for preparedness, response, and recovery to meet the needs of all populations affected by emergencies, including child protection during humanitarian crisis.


*List of Countries Included in this calculation: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom. Figure refers to purchasing power parity dollars


Notes to Editors

Estimates on causes of death among adolescents are based on data from the World Health Organization (WHO) 2019 Global Health Estimates. Estimates on prevalence of diagnosed mental disorders are based on the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation’s (IHME) 2019 Global Burden of Disease Study.

Media contacts

Natalia Alonso
Senior Policy & Advocacy Advisor, Office for Relations with EU Institutions
Tel: +32 (0)2 505 01 02
Philippe Henon
External Relations Manager
UNICEF Belgium
Tel: + 32 477 555 023


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