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UNICEF: 1 in 7 adolescents suffers mental disorders

October 5, 2021

While the coronavirus pandemic has had a "significant" impact on children and adolescents' mental health, it is "just the tip of the iceberg," says UNICEF.

A little boy cuddles with his cuddly toy
Children's distress is likely to affect their futures, UNICEF saidImage: Thomas Trutschel/photothek/imago images

Young people around the world will see the impact of the COVID pandemic on their mental health for years to come, the UN's children's agency warned on Tuesday. 

UNICEF released on Tuesday what it says is its "most comprehensive look at the mental health of children, adolescents and caregivers in the 21st century." 

In its report, UNICEF found that, globally, coronavirus restrictions have affected young people's mental health as they spent "indelible" years of their lives away from family, friends and school.

'Tip of the iceberg'

"It has been a long, long 18 months for all of us — especially children," UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore said in a statement. "The impact [of COVID] is significant, and it is just the tip of the iceberg." 

Fore noted that children were suffering "unaddressed" mental health issues even before the pandemic, with no adequate help available. 

"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," Fore said. 

What else did the report find?

Diagnosed mental disorders are likely to have a toll on young people's education, life outcomes and earning capacity, UNICEF said. 

According to the report, at least one in seven young people between the ages 10 and 19 worldwide has been diagnosed with a mental disorder.

Suicide is among the top five causes of death for this age group, taking the lives of almost 46,000 adolescents each year, according to UNICEF.

UNICEF cited an analysis by the London School of Economics that estimated that lost contribution to economies due to mental disorders cost nearly  $390 billion (€336 billion) a year.

In Good Shape – Mental health

What can be done?

UNICEF warned that barriers to seeking professional help, including stigma surrounding mental illness and lack of funding, are preventing children from having positive mental well-being. 

It urged spreading awareness about mental health among children and their caregivers. UNICEF also called for ensuring that schools have the adequate tools to help young people. 

"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."

If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, at this website: https://www.befrienders.org/

COVID-19 Special: Happiness

fb/rs (AFP, dpa)