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.
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 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.
Push Congress to incorporate mental health and psychosocial services in U.S. foreign assistance. The Mental Health in International Development and Humanitarian Settings (MINDS) Act is the first-ever U.S. legislation that addresses these issues
The CDC offers extensive mental health resources and tools on children’s mental health, coping with COVID-19, suicide prevention and more. The CDC also offers referrals to free, confidential helplines to connect you, a loved one or a friend with a skilled, trained mental health professional. Please call 911 if you or someone you know is a danger to themselves or others.
Learn more by watching the October 13th virtual briefing on UNICEF's annual State of the World's Children 2021 Report, focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people's mental health and well-being. Members of Congress, community partners, UNICEF experts and child advocates participated in a discussion on lessons learned and necessary next steps for ensuring all the children of the world can recover and have what they need for a brighter, healthier future. Watch here.
Learn more about UNICEF’s approach to supporting mental and psychosocial well-being of children and adolescents.