Every Fifth Adolescent Reports Feelings of Nervousness – There Is a Need to Strengthen Psychosocial Support for Children and Adolescents

How to Improve the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Children and Young People in Serbia

19 October 2022
MH Konferencija 2022
UNICEF Srbija/2022/Pazarski

Belgrade, 19 October 2022 - As many as 17 percent of children and young people in Serbia noticed a deterioration in their mental health during the pandemic, every sixth adolescent aged 16 to 17 is at risk of poor mental health, and more than 21 percent report a feeling of nervousness on a weekly basis. These are just some of the findings presented at today’s conference How to Improve the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Children and Young People in Serbia. The event was organized by UNICEF in cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Serbia and other relevant institutional partners and civil society organizations. 

The conference brought together local and international experts, representatives of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Dr. Laza Lazarevic Institute for Mental Health, and the Clinic for Psychiatric Diseases. The event was also attended by representatives of health centres, schools, and centres for social work from Kragujevac, Subotica and Zrenjanin, where services are being developed and will focus on psychosocial support and mental health of young people. 

Deyana Kostadinova, UNICEF Representative in Serbia, opened the event, emphasizing that UNICEF, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia, is working on the development of innovative ways to strengthen and improve the system for mental health protection and psychosocial support for well-being children and young people. 

“Good mental health care for children and adolescents starts with community mobilization and building resilient societies. Strengthening the multi-sectoral support systems and processes within existing structures and establishing referral pathways across primary health care, social welfare and protection, and education is a crucial step in this process. UNICEF stands ready to support the Government of Serbia in establishing a multisectoral system that enables the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of children, adolescents, and their parents and caregivers. Stigma and prejudice related to mental health problems are pervasive. That’s why we should encourage adolescents to open up and talk about how they feel, to turn to someone for help if they need it, and to involve them in the process,” said Deyana Kostadinova, UNICEF Representative in Serbia. 

One of the outcomes of the conference is the formation of a network of dedicated professionals, decision-makers, and young people. They will contribute to further strengthening the development of the mental health protection system and psychosocial support for children and adolescents in Serbia. 

"Our education system is designed to provide young people with knowledge, skills and attitudes relevant to various life situations that require their functional application. One of the cross-curricular competencies is a responsible attitude towards health, and topics on healthy lifestyles and habits are provided in the teaching and learning programs for each class, within the programme contents of compulsory subjects, project teaching and free teaching activities. 

On the other hand, the education system is established to respond to acute situations of risky behaviours, but what is more important, our schools also implement a range of activities that prevent such undesirable behaviours. Schools, not only undertake measures of increased educational work for all students, but also work to strengthen the family and its educational role in order to provide adequate parental support to children. 

Parents and schools, and their two-way and constructive cooperation, are crucial for an adequate response. The most important thing is to educate young people about the importance of mental health and influence the removal of stigma that can lead to discrimination and prevent children and young people from seeking help from professionals. They need to be encouraged to share what they are thinking and feeling with their parents, teachers and other professionals. It is important, first of all, to build trust and establish an open relationship that will enable an open conversation with young people about the problems they face and how the community can help,” said Slavica Djukic Dejanovic, Advisor to the Prime Minister and to the First Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia 

Other specific expected outcomes are the expressed commitment of decision-makers to revise relevant programmes, improve knowledge about the latest scientific findings and approaches to support the improvement of the mental health of young people. In addition, the establishment of an interdepartmental group for the implementation of programme monitoring activities is expected, as well as reducing the stigma that affects adolescents, parents, and young people. 

“While the importance of promoting and protecting the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents is obvious, we also need to address mental health across society including workers, elderly, people living with chronic diseases, victims of violence, among others. We need science behind everything, we need to hear from the community what the problems are and to provide support according to these insights,” Fabio Scano, WHO Representative for Serbia and Special Envoy of the WHO Regional Director for the Western Balkans.  

When it comes to the National Programme for the Protection of Mental Health in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2019-2026, it emphasizes the necessity of improving the mental health of particularly sensitive groups, such as young people. The Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia, in cooperation with UNICEF, is working on the development of innovative ways to strengthen and improve the system for mental health protection and psychosocial support for the well-being of this group of citizens. 

“It is up to all of us, who want to contribute to the field of mental health, to make an effort to listen to our young people, to find the right path together and build a quality support network, to help parents and to influence the development of empathy from an early age and be the ones who will take the time to listen and ask, How are you?. Our campaign asks the question: How are you? Really and we may not immediately get a completely honest answer to this question, but it is of great importance that we do not forget to ask it again,” said Milica Veljkovic, member of UNICEF’s Youth Mental Health Network. 

Overall efforts are aimed at developing mental health awareness and strengthening the capacity of experts for early detection of signs of disorders and crises, providing, and monitoring the effectiveness of mental health care services and psychosocial support for young people. Improving access to various age-appropriate services, identifying the need to change relevant policies during the piloting of this programme, as well as its future implementation across Serbia is a priority. 

UNICEF Serbia plans to create sustainable solutions in cooperation with the private sector and the business community in order to create a support system for young people and adolescents in Serbia who face mental health issues. 

UNICEF Serbia and Maybelline have joined forces and are starting a campaign so that young people facing challenges will receive professional support. Thanks to the support of Maybelline, young people will be able to chat with experts about their problems every day from 18:00 to 22:00 via the svejeok.rs website.  

Media contacts

Jadranka Milanovic
Communication Officer
UNICEF Serbia
Tel: + 381 11 3602 104
Tel: +381 63 336 283

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For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/serbia

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