Impact of COVID-19 on poor mental health in children and young people ‘tip of the iceberg’ – UNICEF

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

05 October 2021
Health
UNICEF/Bashar Al-Ja'bari

AMMAN, 5 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 warned in its flagship report today.

According to The State of the World’s Children 2021; On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health – UNICEF’s most comprehensive look at the mental health of children, adolescents and caregivers in the 21st century – even before COVID-19, children and young people carried the burden of mental health conditions without significant investment in addressing them.

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. Meanwhile, wide gaps persist between mental health needs and mental health funding. The report finds that about 2 per cent of government health budgets are allocated to mental health spending globally.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the extent and severity of the mental health crisis on the most marginalized children and young people,” said Tanya Chapuisat, Representative, UNICEF Jordan, “We need to integrate mental health and psychological support services interventions across health, education, and social protection sectors to address the diverse and complex mental health needs of children and adolescents in Jordan.”

 

Children’s mental health during COVID-19

Indeed, the pandemic has taken its toll. According to early findings from an international survey of children and adults in 21 countries conducted by UNICEF and Gallup – which is previewed in The State of the World’s Children 2021 – a median of 1 in 5 young people aged 15–24 surveyed said they often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things.

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. According to the latest available data from UNICEF, globally, 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. For example, an online survey in China in early 2020, cited in The State of the World’s Children, indicated that around a third of respondents reported feeling scared or anxious.

 

Cost to society

Diagnosed mental disorders, including ADHD, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, depression, eating disorders, intellectual disability, and schizophrenia, can significantly harm children and young people’s health, education, life outcomes, and earning capacity.

While the impact on children’s lives is incalculable, a new analysis by the London School of Economics in the report indicates that 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.

“UNICEF Jordan will continue to work with the Government of Jordan and partners to ensure that schools, homes, and communities are safe and enabling environments. Equipping children, adolescents and youth with skills needed to overcome mental health and psychosocial support concerns” added Chapuisat.

 

Protective factors

The report notes that a mix of genetics, experience and environmental factors from the earliest days, including parenting, schooling, quality of relationships, exposure to violence or abuse, discrimination, poverty, humanitarian crises, and health emergencies such as COVID-19, all shape and effect children’s mental health throughout their lifetime.

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 significant barriers, including 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 commit, communicate and act to promote mental health for all children, adolescents and caregivers, protect those in need of help, and care for the most vulnerable, including:

  • Urgent investment in child and adolescent mental health across sectors, not just in health, to support a whole-of-society approach to prevention, promotion and care.
  • Integrating and scaling up evidence-based interventions across health, education and social protection sectors - including parenting programmes that promote responsive, nurturing caregiving and support parent and caregiver mental health; and ensuring schools support mental health through quality services and positive relationships.
  • Breaking the silence surrounding mental illness, through addressing stigma and promoting better understanding of mental health and taking seriously the experiences of children and young people.

 

In Jordan, the Advancing Adolescents programme, implemented within the regional No Lost Generation (NLG) initiative, a UNICEF-led initiative to prevent the loss of an entire generation to the effects of war, violence, and displacement. The Programme has offered structured group activities for adolescents aged 12–18 from Syrian refugee and Jordanian host communities. The group activities were based on a psychosocial care approach that emphasized social interaction and encouraged participation. The activities were run by trained adult facilitators and included fitness, arts and skills-training classes

And as part of WHO Jordan efforts to scale up mental health services and psychosocial support, collaborations have been established with national and international NGOs to strengthen the capacity of these facilities to respond to the needs of beneficiaries affected by developmental disorders and intellectual disabilities, as well as children and adolescents overall.

Projects implemented by WHO Jordan in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, are directed towards strengthening the mental health system, improve access and services for vulnerable Jordanians and refugees. These efforts aim to strengthen the mental health at primary care level and secondary level to further support the stand-alone psychiatric hospital, and also aim to support mental health community awareness and ultimately supporting the governance of mental health system in Jordan.

Advancing Adolescents programme was part of a humanitarian response to the conflict in the Middle East region led by UNICEF, Mercy Corps, Save the Children and World Vision.

 

Media contacts

Dima Salameh
Media Officer
UNICEF Jordan

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 in Jordan, visit www.unicef.org/jordan.

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