The outbreak of COVID-19 has profoundly affected the mental health of us all. But with school closures, social isolation and a prevailing sense of uncertainty around the future, young people have been some of the hardest hit.
Even before 2020 the mental health of young people was a huge concern. Deaths by suicide are often highest among young people – according to UNICEF, 1 young person aged 10-19 dies by suicide every 11 minutes. The mental health of caregivers also impacts young people, with up to a quarter of children living with someone who has a mental health condition.
The pandemic and its resulting lockdown measures have compounded these issues and had further damaging consequences on education, relationships and the situation in the home and in local communities for many.
So what needs to be done?
Youth mental health is a hugely complex issue, with vast variations across socio-economic groups, geographical location and intersectionalities with other marginalised communities. But as the global community celebrates World Children’s Day this week, below are a few ways that governments, policy-makers and national leaders can help to accelerate progress.
Mental health and psychosocial support must look beyond health to areas such as education, poverty and social welfare. An integrated approach, which takes a holistic view of wellbeing, is critical if we are to tackle the array of complex factors that impact the mental health of young people.
Greater investment in young people’s mental health must be made a priority. This is important for prevention of mental health conditions as well as diagnosis and treatment. If we are to step up progress, then countries need to significantly increase investment in mental health, focusing at a primary and not a tertiary level.
Tackling stigma and discrimination is essential if young people are to seek support when they need it most. Countries must develop and roll out campaigns across communities and particularly among young people in order to tackle this.
Good quality data is needed to measure impact and adjust strategies accordingly. Countdown Global Mental Health 2030, along with reports such as the Bernard van Leer Foundation’s recent Child and Caregiver Mental Health policy brief and UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report, mark an important first step in helping to achieve this.
Listening to the voices of young people is critical. Unless we listen to those with lived experience of mental illness we cannot know what will support them best and how we can be more effective in our work to achieve better mental health for all. There need to be mechanisms that enable these voices to be heard in policy making and delivery.