Almost all children across the world have been hit by COVID-19 disruptions – school closures, lockdowns and disruption to routines, says a new UNICEF Report. Added to that is the concerns for family income and health, which has left many young people feeling angry, afraid and uncertain about the future.
The report highlights how more than one in seven 10- to 19-year-olds (13%) are estimated to live with a diagnosed mental health disorder – about 89 million boys and 77 million girls. However, the findings do not reflect levels of diagnosed depression but show how children and young people have been feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report said a lack of data gathering and routine monitoring meant the picture of young people’s mental health status and needs in most countries was extremely limited.
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF’s executive director, said it has been a long, long 18 months for everyone – especially the children. “With nationwide lockdowns and pandemic-related movement restrictions, children have spent indelible years of their lives away from family, friends, classrooms, play which are key elements of childhood,” she said. “The impact is significant, and it is just the tip of the iceberg. Even before the pandemic, far too many children were burdened under the weight of unaddressed mental health issues.”
The report revealed that one child dies every 11 minutes from suicide. Each year, an estimated 45.800 adolescents die from suicide, which is the fifth most prevalent cause of death for children aged 10 to 19. For 15- to 19-year-olds, it is the fourth most common cause of death, after road injury, tuberculosis and interpersonal violence. For girls in this age group, it is the third most common cause of death, and the fourth for boys.
Ann Willhoite, mental health and psychosocial support specialist at UNICEF, described this as really bad. “If you look at the statistics compared to other issues, it’s shocking and concerning this is not being shouted about more.” The report states diagnosed mental health problems, including anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, ADHD, depression, eating disorders and schizophrenia, can significantly harm children and young people’s health, education and future.
It pointed out that untreated mental health problems also have an impact on world economies. According to an analysis by the London School of Economies, the economic price of such neglect is about £387.2 billion a year. Despite demand for support, government expenditure on mental health globally accounts for 2.1% of the total amount spent on health in general. In some of the world’s poorest countries, governments spend less than $1 a person treating mental health conditions.