The UN agency encourages countries to invest in expanded mental health services and support for young people
The mental health of millions of children worldwide has been put at risk, with at least one in seven forced to remain at home under nationwide public health orders – or recommendations – during the Covid-19 pandemic, says the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef).
Based on new research, Unicef said on Thursday that more than 330 million youngsters had been stuck at home for at least nine months, since the virus spread uncontrollably this time last year, reports UN News.
This has left them feeling isolated and anxious about their future, Unicef spokesperson James Elder has said.
“Tens of millions of youngsters have been left feeling isolated, afraid, lonely and anxious because of these enforced lockdowns and isolations that have come as a result of this pandemic,” he added.
He said countries needed to emerge from this pandemic “with a better approach to child and adolescent mental health, and that probably starts just by giving the issue the attention it deserves.”
According to Unicef, half of all mental disorders develop before the age of 15, and the majority of the 800,000 people who die by suicide annually, are under the age of 18.
Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore said when day after day “you are away from your friends and distant loved ones, and perhaps even stuck at home with an abuser,” the impact is significant.
“Many children are left feeling afraid, lonely, anxious, and concerned for their future. We must emerge from this pandemic with a better approach to child and adolescent mental health, and that starts by giving the issue the attention it deserves,” she added.
For children experiencing violence, neglect or abuse at home, lockdowns have left many stranded with abusers. Children in vulnerable population groups - like those living and working on the streets, children with disabilities, and children living in conflict settings - risk having their mental health needs overlooked entirely.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide, while the demand for mental health support is increasing.
To respond to growing needs, Unicef has offered support to governments and partners to prioritize services for children.
Later this year, Unicef will dedicate its biennial flagship report on the state of the world’s children, to child and adolescent mental health, in a bid to increase awareness of the global challenge, exacerbated profoundly by the coronavirus pandemic.
“If we did not fully appreciate the urgency prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, surely we do now,” said Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“Countries must dramatically invest in expanded mental health services and support for young people and their caregivers in communities and schools. We also need scaled-up parenting programs to ensure that children from vulnerable families get the support and protection they need at home,” she added.