Mental Health and Well-being
UNICEF aims to establish a multisectoral cooperation that includes schools, health institutions and community centres to address mental health
The second decade of life is the period of rapid personal development. Physical, emotional and social changes, especially if a child is exposed to poverty or violence, can make adolescents vulnerable to mental health problems. The mental health of adolescents can impact social relationships, learning and engagement at school, the ability to care for oneself and others, and making positive life choices.
Severe distress can also lead to various harmful outcomes, such as alcohol and drug abuse, low self-esteem, health issues, self-harm and suicide. Poor mental health affects adolescents’ lives in a negative way and may lead to social exclusion, violation of their human rights, and inability to fit into society, earn a living and realize their potential.
Mental health and wellbeing of children and young people is one of UNICEF’s global and national priorities. A decline in adolescent and youth mental health globally has become a significant challenge, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Serbia, 4.1 per cent of the total population show symptoms of depression, 10.8 per cent of school students reported bad mood and 21.9 per cent reported nervousness at least once a week. All this indicates that action must be taken immediately.
Mental health services are not well connected with other systems, and therefore on a practical level are unable to provide timely and adequate response and referral to prevent minor mental health issues from developing into conditions. The number of mental health centres, prevention activities and networks of services at community level is insufficient; communication between services is poor or non-existent. The present services are neither aimed to detect mental health issues at an early stage nor to provide adequate response and referral. Lack of access to services can have immediate and long-term consequences for children, families and communities.
With this in mind, UNICEF aims to establish a multisectoral cooperation that includes schools, health institutions and community centres to address mental health by different means, including awareness-raising campaigns, online tools development, mental health education in schools and youth centres and strengthening capacities of professionals.
Programme Area Goals
UNICEF aims to increase knowledge of healthy development and available services among adolescents and young people. We focus on providing continuous support to the Government and partners within the UNICEF Serbia Country Programme 2021–2025, to ensure that well-being and mental health programmes are available and accessible by diverse groups of adolescents and youth, including the most vulnerable. Our goals are to:
- Provide young people with easily accessible and age-appropriate services for mental health and psychosocial support, to strengthen community mental health and psychosocial support mechanisms and systems in communities.
- Ensure youth participation in decision-making on mental health services.
- Contribute to reducing stigma around mental health by providing young people with healthy lifestyle information in an engaging format.
Our goal is that by 2025:
5,000 adolescents and young people are reached through awareness activities and UNICEF-supported community mobilization interventions both online and offline and will have increased knowledge of healthy development and available services.
Mental health is still not a topic talked about openly, and there is significant social stigma attached to seeking professional help. Because of insufficiently developed mental health services and social stigma, many adolescents do not receive the necessary psychological support, and those suffering from mental conditions do not get diagnosed and treated. Those who suffer from mental health issues feel stressed, anxious and unmotivated, which together leads to decreased performance at school or university and puts them at risk of dropping out or engaging in risky behaviours, including substance use and unprotected sex. If not detected at an early stage, minor psychological issues may develop to mental health conditions that affect all spheres of a person’s life.
Data shows that in Serbia:
- 36 per cent of adolescents seek help from their parents.
- 26 per cent of adolescents seek help from peers.
- Only 18 per cent seek help from specialists.
- 1/3 of young people are not aware of how to get psychological support.
- 37 per cent say that stigma around mental health must be reduced to encourage young people get help if needed.
Based on the above, the challenge is to create a multifaceted approach that can target different groups, including young people from various backgrounds (persons with disabilities, Roma and LGBTQI youth, those living in poverty or in rural areas), parents and caregivers, teachers, youth workers, general practitioners and others.
To address the lack of awareness and the social stigma around psychological and mental well-being, UNICEF will support the Government to map out existing services and identify key gaps, establish innovative, disability-, gender- and age-sensitive mental health and psychosocial support services for young people that will support them in understanding how to take care of their own well-being and self-care and improve their mental resilience to stress and potential trauma. Raising awareness about the importance of mental health protection, combating social stigma, discrimination and abuse linked to mental health issues, and promoting help-seeking behaviours will contribute to developing a more caring and nurturing society where young people are heard, feel seen and are ready to become active members of society.
In partnership with the Ministry of Health, UNICEF will plan and pilot an innovative and youth-friendly mental health community service package to raise awareness and provide young people with mental health support. We will provide professionals with continuing learning opportunities to create a strong pool of specialists (psychiatrists, psychologists, general practitioners, teachers, social workers) working with adolescents and youth. We aim to provide raise awareness among parents to reduce the risk of mental health conditions in adolescents.
Our approach also includes strengthening online resources and provision of self-care materials and apps, training of professionals to provide e-health support, and piloting of adolescent-appropriate packages that can provide a range of services to young persons.