Even before the COVID-19 pandemic started, mental health emerged as a critical issue for children and young people – one that requires more research and evidence to better inform programmes, policies and practice.
In November 2019, UNICEF Innocenti’s inaugural Leading Minds event gathered thought leaders, researchers, and young mental health advocates to discuss the pressing issues surrounding mental health of children and young people. UNICEF Innocenti has continued to build on the momentum created by this groundbreaking event by contributing to the growing knowledge and evidence base looking at the impacts of events, programmes and policies on mental health and also outcomes for mental health.
“Too many children and young people, rich and poor alike, in all four corners of the world are experiencing mental ill health as we have never seen before. This is the silent emergency of our times. It has no borders and requires urgent attention.”
– Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF
Why mental health?
Up to 20 per cent of adolescents globally experience mental disorders, three out of four adult mental health problems begin during childhood and adolescence, and an alarming proportion of adolescents – 5-10 per cent in high-income countries and 15 per cent in low- and middle-income countries – attempt suicide.
These are just a few data points collected right before the pandemic struck. Since the onset of COVID-19, concerns over the mental health of children and young people have soared. UNICEF Innocenti has been working hard to fill gaps in knowledge on mental health for children and young people as it relates to COVID-19 and beyond.
The role of research on mental health of children and young people
Strengthening the evidence base on mental health for children and young people is imperative to ensure that UNICEF’s programming efforts as well as recommendations for policy and practice related to mental health are effective.
UNICEF Innocenti’s new research programme on mental health aims to shed light on the state of mental health of children and adolescents in various settings, including and beyond the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This research will help identify how best to respond in ways that maximize effectiveness and efficiencies of interventions and promote the realization of the right to health of every child and adolescent everywhere. Research will also create a deeper understanding of the social determinants of mental health, including risk and protective factors at various developmental phases of a child’s life.
Explore our recent research and stay tuned for our forthcoming publication this fall: Life in Lockdown: Child and adolescent mental health and well-being in the time of COVID-19.