The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s mental health in Nigeria was rising, as one in six young adults aged between 15 and 24 years was currently experiencing depression.
UNICEF said this in its flagship report, “State of the World’s Children 2021; On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health” released on Tuesday, in Abuja.
The report is UNICEF’s most comprehensive look at the mental health of children, adolescents, and caregivers in the 21st century.
It estimates that the current impact of COVID-19 on children’s mental health was a ‘tip of the iceberg’ as the trend was likely to continue in the next years.
The report said that the negative trend can, however, be reversed if the Federal Government increased funding for mental health.
“What we see now is just a ‘tip of the iceberg’. As COVID-19 heads into its third year, the impact of the pandemic on children and young people’s mental health and well-being will continue to weigh heavily.
“One in six young Nigerians between 15 to 24 years, often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things. Data from UNICEF shows that globally, one in seven children have been directly affected by lockdowns.
“More than 1.6 billion children have suffered some loss of education; the disruption to routines, education, and recreation. Concern for family income and health is leaving many young people feeling afraid, angry, and concerned for their future.
“Although almost 46,000 adolescents die from suicides every year, wide gaps persist between mental health needs and mental health funding. Only 2 per cent of government health budgets is allocated to mental health spending globally,” the report said.
The report also said that mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, intellectual disability, and conduct disorder, can harm the health, life outcomes, and earning capacity of young people.
According to the report, globally, more than one in seven adolescents between 10 to 19 years have been diagnosed with a mental health problem.
The report quoted Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, as saying that the lockdown in Nigeria, increased the risk of violence and abuse, especially, among girl children.
“It has been a long 18 months for us all, especially children.
“With the nationwide lockdowns and pandemic-related movement restrictions in Nigeria, children have spent indelible years of their lives away from family, friends, classrooms, and play which are key elements of childhood itself.
“Children have also suffered an increase in violence and abuse, especially girl children. Even before the pandemic, far too many children were burdened under the weight of unaddressed mental health issues.
“This has been compounded by the pandemic. The impact is significant, and it is sadly the tip of the iceberg,” Hawkins said.
He noted that mental health and physical health were an integral part of health hence they should not be viewed or approached differently, citing the London School of Economics estimates that globally, mental health problems that have led to disabilities or death among young people incurred an economic loss of nearly $390 billion.
The report, therefore, called on governments, private, and public sector partners to act to promote mental health for all children, adolescents, and caregivers.
It suggested that this could be achieved through investments in child and adolescent mental health, breaking the silence surrounding mental illness by addressing stigma, and sensitization to improve understanding of mental health.
“The report notes that a mix of genetics, experience and environmental factors from the earliest days, shape and affect children’s mental health throughout their lifetimes.
“These experiences include parenting, schooling, quality of relationships, exposure to violence or abuse, discrimination, poverty, humanitarian crises, and health emergencies such as COVID-19.
“Protective factors such as loving caregivers, safe school environments, and positive peer relationships can help reduce the risk of mental health problems.
“Significant barriers, including stigma and lack of funding, can, however, prevent many children from experiencing positive mental health or accessing the support they need,” the report stated.