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The stigmas around mental health make it harder for children, adolescents, and caregivers to express their feelings.

SNS | New Delhi |


UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2021 Report released recently ought to set alarm bells ringing. While it is now widely recognised that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a debilitating impact on the mental health of a generation of children, the issues brought forth by a black swan occurrence such as the pandemic may represent only the tip of a mental health iceberg.

Globally, an estimated 13 per cent of adolescents aged 10-19 live with diagnosed mental disorders. Covid-19 has brought to the surface powerful emotions ~ uncertainty, loneliness, and grief ~ which have enveloped the lives of millions ~ and their impact has delivered a further blow to an already critical situation when it comes to the mental health of children and young people.

Even before the pandemic, psychosocial distress and poor mental health afflicted millions. In 21 countries, one in five young people aged 15-24 said they often felt depressed or had little interest in doing things, according to a UNICEF-Gallup global survey.

Those most at risk include the millions who are forced out of their homes, scarred by conflict and serious adversity, and deprived of access to schooling, protection and support. In nearly every part of the world, declining mental well-being ~ and the lack of caring responses ~ causes significant suffering for children and young people and is a leading cause of death, disease, and disability, especially for older adolescents.

The high cost of low investment in promoting, protecting, and caring for the mental health of the young and their caregivers is evident from the data: $387.2 billion worth of lost human potential that could have gone towards national economies each year, according to UNICEF estimates. The cost of this near-criminal neglect is incalculable.

Globally, about two per cent of government health budgets are allocated to mental health spending, and the figure is less than $1 per person in some of the world’s poorest countries. Suicide is among the top-five causes of death among those aged between 15 and 19.

Every year, almost 46,000 children between 10 and 19 end their lives ~ that’s one young life lost every 11 minutes. These calls for help have, in the main, gone unheard by governments, especially those in the global South where priorities may well be different given widespread poverty. But that’s no excuse.

In fact, campaigners have been calling for mental health to be addressed in different contexts around the world. Our collective inability to address mental health can be measured by how little societies are willing to talk about or understand it.

The stigmas around mental health make it harder for children, adolescents, and caregivers to express their feelings. High on a long list of misgivings around mental health is the failure to understand that, just like physical health, mental health is positive. Instead of focusing solely on conditions to be diagnosed and medicated, mental health needs to be understood as a continuum.

We may enjoy life but also have periods of distress. As the 2018 Lancet Commission on global mental health and sustainable development puts it: “Emotional pain is as fundamental to human experience as physical pain.” It is time to do something to alleviate it.