Unicef: 1 in 7 of world's young people suffers from mental health disorder

Report urges greater government investment and an end to the stigma surrounding children's mental well-being

Unicef, the UN's child protection agency, is urging governments to pour more money and resources into preserving the mental well-being of children and adolescents.  AP
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One in seven of the world's young people lives with some sort of mental disorder, according to a Unicef report which has called for an end to the stigma surrounding children's mental health.

The comprehensive study, titled The State of the World’s Children, warns that concerns about juvenile mental health following the Covid-19 pandemic could be the “tip of the iceberg” and says authorities must do more to tackle the escalating issue.

The researchers estimate that 13 per cent of the world's adolescents aged 10 to 19 - 89 million boys and 77 million girls - have sought help for a mental disorder, with prevalence being greatest in the Middle East, North Africa, North America and Western Europe.

Anxiety and depression make up about 40 per cent of these diagnosed mental disorders. Others include conduct disorders, attention-deficit disorders and intellectual disabilities.

In the report, Unicef cautions that the pandemic has clouded children's long-term future and “upended their lives, and created real concern for their mental health and well-being.”

“It will hang over the aspirations and lifetime earnings of a generation whose education has been disrupted,” it said. “The risk is that the aftershocks of this pandemic will chip away at the happiness and well-being of children, adolescents and caregivers for years to come.”

Citing research by Gallup, researchers also found that 19 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds self-reported that they often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things.

Twenty per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds in the UK reported feeling depressed often, just behind the US and France (both 24 per cent). Cameroon reported the worst outcomes, with 32 per cent of young people reporting they felt depressed much of the time.

The authors noted that there is a growing awareness about the importance of mental health, but warns stigma surrounding mental health remains a powerful barrier to healthcare access.

“We all must work to help break the silence around mental health — challenge stigmas, raise mental health literacy and ensure the voices of young people are heard, and especially those with lived experience of mental health challenges,” they said.

The study calls for an increased level of investment in psychiatric and mental health services around the world, which it described as “very low".

World governments annually spend less than $1 per person on treating mental health, rising to just $3 per person in upper-middle-income countries.

“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’s executive director, Henrietta Fore.

“The impact is significant, and it is just the tip of the iceberg,” Ms Fore said. “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.”

Updated: October 05, 2021, 4:04 PM