Remarks by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore at the Global Mental Health Summit

As prepared

05 October 2021

PARIS/NEW YORK, 5 October 2021 - "Your Excellency, Your Majesty, Esteemed Colleagues.

"My sincere thanks to the Government of France for hosting this Global Mental Health Summit.

"I also offer my heartfelt thanks to Minister Véran and the French Ministry of Solidarity and Health for the support they have given to this year’s launch of UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report.  It is our first report to focus on child and adolescent mental health.

"It has been a long 18 months for all of us – especially children. Children around the world have been locked out of classrooms, sequestered in their homes, and robbed of the everyday joy of playing with friends.  All consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Millions of families have been pushed into poverty, unable to make ends meet. Rates of child labour, abuse and gender-based violence are on the rise.

"Many children are filled with sadness, hurt or anxiety.  Some are wondering where this world is headed and what their place is in it. 

"Even absent a pandemic, psychosocial distress and poor mental health afflict far too many children – including millions who each year are forced from their homes, scarred by conflict and serious adversity, or deprived of access to schooling, protection, and support.

"Globally, more than 1 in 7 adolescents aged 10–19 is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder. Almost 46,000 adolescents die from suicide each year - this is among the top five causes of death for this age group.

"When we ignore the mental health and wellbeing of children, we undermine their capacity to learn, develop, build meaningful relationships and contribute to the world. When we ignore the mental health of parents and caregivers, we fail to support them to nurture and care for their children to the best of their ability.

"Today UNICEF launches our State of the World’s Children Report, our most comprehensive look at the mental health of children, adolescents and caregivers in the 21st century. In it, we find that while children and young people carry the burden of mental health conditions, there are insufficient systems in place to provide them with the support they need.

"That is why UNICEF is calling on governments, and public and private sector partners, to commit, communicate and act to promote mental health and wellbeing for all children, adolescents and caregivers. This includes three key actions:

"First: we need urgent public AND private investment in mental health services across all areas, including health, education, social protection and beyond. In other words, we need a whole-of-society approach to mental health. 

"Next: we must integrate evidence-based solutions across the health, education and social protection sectors. This includes parenting programmes that promote responsive, nurturing caregiving and support the mental health of caregivers.

"And lastly: we must all play our part to break the silence surrounding mental illness.  We must work to combat stigma and promote better understanding of mental health.

"We hope many of you here today will join our call to action.In this afternoon’s working group on child and adolescent mental health, you will hear directly from young people on the urgent action that is needed.

"To mark the launch of our report today, we have also set up an installation near the Summit building to raise awareness of child and adolescent mental health in France and around the world. The installation acts as a reminder of the importance of involving young people in mental health policy decisions.

"We encourage those in Paris to visit throughout the day and demonstrate your support for child and adolescent mental health.

"For far too long, in low-, middle- and high-income countries alike, AND in humanitarian crises, we have seen too little understanding and too little investment in child and adolescent mental health.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has helped shine a light on the need for urgent action. We cannot fail this generation. The time to act is now.

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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.

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