Impact of COVID-19 on Poor Mental Health in Children and Young People ‘Tip of the Iceberg’ – UNICEF

October 4, 2021

New analysis indicates nearly $390 billion a year lost to global economies due to poor mental health among young people, $64.7 billion in US.

 

Globally 1 in 5 young people aged 15–24 surveyed said they often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things, US is 1 in 4 young people.

 

UNICEF USA calls on US government investment in mental health and psychosocial support, through foreign assistance and US schools.

NEW YORK (October 04, 2020)Children and young people could feel the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and well-being for many years to come, UNICEF warned in its flagship report today.

According to The State of the World’s Children 2021; On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health – UNICEF’s most comprehensive look at the mental health of children, adolescents and caregivers in the 21st century – even before COVID-19, children and young people carried the burden of mental health conditions without significant investment in addressing them.

According to the latest available estimates, more than 1 in 7 adolescents aged 10–19 is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder globally. Almost 46,000 adolescents die from suicide each year, among the top five causes of death for their age group. Meanwhile, wide gaps persist between mental health needs and mental health funding. The report finds that about 2 per cent of government health budgets are allocated to mental health spending globally.

“It has been a long, long 18 months for all of us – especially children. With nationwide lockdowns and pandemic-related movement restrictions, children have spent indelible years of their lives away from family, friends, classrooms, play – key elements of childhood itself,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “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. Too little investment is being made by governments to address these critical needs. Not enough importance is being placed on the relationship between mental health and future life outcomes.”

"The impacts of the pandemic have been immense for families and communities around the world, including ongoing mental health challenges that need to be addressed," said Michael J. Nyenhuis, President and CEO, UNICEF USA. "This flagship report shines an important spotlight on what children and families are dealing with and solutions to support them, from nurturing caregiving and strengthened school programs to addressing the stigma around mental health. As we continue to collectively respond and recover from COVID-19, supporting mental health needs to be a priority."

Children’s mental health during COVID-19

Indeed, the pandemic has taken its toll. According to early findings from an international survey of children and adults in 21 countries conducted by UNICEF and Gallup – which is previewed in The State of the World’s Children 2021 – a median of 1 in 5 young people aged 15–24 surveyed said they often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things. In the United States, it is more than that at nearly 1 in 4 young people.

As COVID-19 heads into its third year, the impact on children and young people’s mental health and well-being continues to weigh heavily. Almost all children across the globe have been directly impacted by lockdowns and school closures, the disruption to routines, education, recreation, as well as concern for family income and health, is leaving many young people feeling afraid, angry, and concerned for their future.

Cost to society

Diagnosed mental disorders, including ADHD, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, depression, eating disorders, intellectual disability, and schizophrenia, can significantly harm children and young people’s health, education, life outcomes, and earning capacity.

While the impact on children’s lives is incalculable, a new analysis by the London School of Economics in the report indicates that lost contribution to economies due to mental disorders among young people is estimated at nearly $390 billion a year. In the US this number is estimated at $64.7 billion.

Solutions

The report notes that a mix of experiences, genes and environmental factors from the earliest days, including parenting, schooling, quality of relationships, exposure to violence or abuse, discrimination, poverty, humanitarian crises, and health emergencies such as COVID-19, all shape and effect children’s mental health throughout their lifetime.

While protective factors, such as loving caregivers, safe school environments, and positive peer relationships can help reduce the risk of mental disorders, the report warns that significant barriers, including stigma and lack of funding, are preventing too many children from experiencing positive mental health or accessing the support they need.

The State of the World’s Children 2021 calls on governments, and public and private sector partners, to commit, communicate and act to promote mental health for all children, adolescents and caregivers, protect those in need of help, and care for the most vulnerable, including:

  • Urgent investment in child and adolescent mental health across sectors, not just in health, to support a whole-of-society approach to prevention, promotion and care.
  • Integrating and scaling up evidence-based interventions across health, education and social protection sectors - including parenting programs that promote responsive, nurturing caregiving and support parent and caregiver mental health; and ensuring schools support mental health through quality services and positive relationships.
  • Breaking the silence surrounding mental illness, through addressing stigma and promoting better understanding of mental health and taking seriously the experiences of children and young people.
  • Congress can take action at home and around the world to support the mental health of young people. The Mental Health Services for Students Act will provide grant funding to US schools for on-site, culturally appropriate mental health services: https://act.unicefusa.org/ENEnKHU​. The MINDS Act will integrate mental health supports into US Foreign Assistance: https://act.unicefusa.org/H7eTJC4

“Mental health is a part of physical health - we cannot afford to continue to view it as otherwise,” said Fore. “For far too long, in rich and poor countries alike, we have seen too little understanding and too little investment in a critical element of maximizing every child’s potential. This needs to change.”

 

 

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About UNICEF 
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to pursue a more equitable world for every child. UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more.

UNICEF USA advances the global mission of UNICEF by rallying the American public to support the world’s most vulnerable children. Together, we are working toward a world that upholds the rights of all children and helps every child thrive. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.

For more information, contact
Erica Vogel, UNICEF USA, 212.922.2480, evogel@unicefusa.org