Impact of COVID-19 on poor mental health in children and young people ‘tip of the iceberg’ – UNICEF
1 in 6 young Nigerians aged 15-24 often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things
ABUJA, 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 health problem 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.
“It has been a long 18 months for us all– especially children. With the nationwide lockdowns and pandemic-related movement restrictions in Nigeria, children have spent indelible years of their lives away from family, friends, classrooms, play – key elements of childhood itself,” said UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Peter Hawkins. “They have also suffered an increase in violence and abuse, especially girl children.”
“Even before the pandemic, far too many children were burdened under the weight of unaddressed mental health issues. This has been compounded by the pandemic. The impact is significant, and it is sadly just the tip of the iceberg,” Said Peter Hawkins.
Children’s mental health during COVID-19
Indeed, the pandemic has taken its toll. According to early findings from an international survey conducted by UNICEF and Gallup of children and adults in 21 countries, including Nigeria – 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. In Nigeria, 1 in 6 young people aged 15-24 surveyed said they often feel depressed, have little interest in doing things, or are worried, nervous or anxious.
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.
Cost to society
Diagnosed mental health challenges, 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 health problems that lead to disability or death among young people is estimated at nearly $390 billion a year.
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 health problems, 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, by:
- Investing 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.
“Mental health is an integral part of health, and just as important as physical health - we cannot afford to continue to view it as otherwise,” said Peter Hawkins. “We must commit to understanding and investing more in this critical area so that we maximize every child’s potential and their ability to fulfil their dreams of a full and happy life.”
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.
Survey findings on feelings of depression or having little interest in doing things are part of a larger study conducted jointly between UNICEF and Gallup to explore the intergenerational divide. The Changing Childhood Project interviewed approximately 20,000 people by telephone in 21 countries. All samples are probability-based and nationally representative of two distinct populations in each country: people aged 15-24 and people aged 40 and older. The coverage area is the entire country, including rural areas, and the sampling frame represents the entire civilian, non-institutionalized, population within each age cohort with access to a telephone. The full findings of the project will be released by UNICEF in November.
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
For more information about UNICEF Nigeria and its work, visit:www.unicef.org/nigeria/