Mental Health | UNICEF USA
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How UNICEF Supports Children’s Mental Health

Millions of children worldwide suffer unthinkable distress due to armed conflict, natural disasters and other emergencies. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated those stressors, generating its own toxic mental health and psychosocial impacts. According to UNICEF, 1 in 7 children and young people lived under stay-at-home policies for most of last year. Fear, anxiety and stress within families during the pandemic lockdowns and school closures only heighten children’s risk of abuse, exploitation and neglect. 

Children thrive when they feel safe and protected, when family and community connections are stable and when their basic needs are met; unfortunately, the pandemic, like other humanitarian crises, disrupted many of those foundations that assure children’s mental health and well-being.

Mental health interventions have been a key part of UNICEF’s global response to COVID-19. UNICEF’s role in helping deliver COVID-19 vaccines to low- and lower-middle-income countries is as much about conquering disease as it is about ending the lockdowns and restarting children’s lives.

Meeting mental health needs is an integral part of UNICEF’s humanitarian relief efforts

UNICEF integrates sustainable child mental health and psychosocial support funding into all global humanitarian relief efforts to meet every child’s needs — regardless of age, gender, ability, ethnicity and living situation. UNICEF provides mental health and psychosocial support services and training worldwide to strengthen the resilience of children and their families and help them cope with adversity during and after a crisis. 

Whenever and wherever children and adolescents are in crisis, UNICEF works with partners from health, education, child protection and other sectors to create Child-Friendly Spaces that offer psychosocial support. These safe, nurturing environments are places where children get the chance to gather, learn, play and heal with the help of mental health tools designed for children in crisis. They also get counseling and vocational and life-skills training. 

UNICEF coordinates alternative care and mental health psychosocial support for vulnerable children around the world. Above, a young recipient of these services, from Kantivaas village, Banaskantha, Gujarat, India. © UNICEF/UN0378208/Panjwani

UNICEF also knows the importance of age-appropriate solutions to kids' mental health challenges, particularly once kids near adolescence. According to the World Health Organization, mental health conditions account for 16 percent of the diseases and injuries afflicting kids from the ages of 10 – 19, and half of all mental health conditions start by age 14. 

UNICEF and WHO developed toolkits to promote and protect adolescent mental health. UNICEF also provides coping and mental health advice to teachers, parents and caregivers via Psychological First Aid “kits,” parent education programs and peer support groups.

In Afghanistan, UNICEF has provided boys and girls psychosocial support services through Child-Friendly Spaces, like this one at the Shahrak-Sabz settlement in Herat city for people displaced by conflict. Fixed and mobile Child-Friendly Spaces across Afghanistan give children the chance to have fun and build reading, writing and math skills. © UNICEF/UN0512074/Bidel

How you can support children and adolescents' mental health  

Learn more about UNICEF’s approach to supporting mental and psychosocial well-being of children and adolescents.

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