Over US$30 billion is lost to economies in Latin America and the Caribbean each year due to youth mental health disorders

As COVID-19 continues to weigh down on children and their families across the region, UNICEF calls for urgent action to promote good mental health for every child.

05 October 2021
 Andre [NAME CHANGED], 14, sits in the stands of a repurposed sports stadium in Carabayllo, a district in the north of Lima, Peru, while he waits for the time of his scheduled appointment to be seen at the Community Mental Health Centre that now occupies one of the buildings on the grounds.

PANAMA CITY, 5 October 2021 – Inaction on mental health in Latin America and the Caribbean has high costs on children’s well-being and countries’ economies, especially in the wake of COVID-19, UNICEF warned in its flagship report today.

While the effects on children’s lives are incalculable, a new analysis by the London School of Economics in the report indicates that lost contribution to economies in Latin America and the Caribbean due to mental disorders that lead to disability or death among young people is estimated at nearly $30.6 billion a year.

According to The State of the World’s Children 2021; On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health, even before the pandemic, children and young people carried the burden of unaddressed mental health needs. The latest available estimates suggest that 15 per cent of children and adolescents aged 10-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean – around 16 million – live with a diagnosed mental disorder. Every day, more than 10 adolescents lose their lives to suicide in the region.

“For far too long, children’s mental health has been overlooked in Latin America and the Caribbean. Now, COVID-19 has thrust it into the spotlight,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “More than 18 months of isolation from family and friends, during lockdowns and the longest COVID-19 school closures in the world, have put the mental health of millions of the region’s children at risk.”

On Thursday 7 October, UNICEF will host a regional online event to share the main findings of this report and promote conversations on mental health between young people across Latin America and the Caribbean. The public event aims to call for firmer government action on child and adolescent mental health and will be streamed live on the social media platforms of UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Office.

Despite growing awareness of the impact of mental health conditions, limited investment in mental health – just 1.8 per cent of public spending in Latin America and the Caribbean – and continued stigma block children and their caregivers from getting help.

The State of the World’s Children 2021 calls on governments, and public and private sector partners to commit, communicate and act to promote good mental health for all children, adolescents and caregivers, 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.

The State of the World’s Children is a rallying call for children’s mental health that includes young voices from around the world, including Chile, Jamaica, Mexico and Peru,” said Jean Gough. “As parents, caregivers and decisionmakers, we must pay attention to young people, listen and co-create solutions for them and their families to thrive.”

Media contacts

Laurent Duvillier
Regional Chief of Communication
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: + 507 3017393
Tel: + 507 6169 9886
Manuel Moreno González
Regional Communication Specialist
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: +507 3017449
Tel: +507 67279884


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