COVID-19: 1 in 6 young Nigerians suffer depression— UNICEF

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United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says not less than 1 in 6 young Nigerians aged 15-24 often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things, or are worried, nervous or anxious as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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This is according  to early findings from an international survey conducted by UNICEF and Gallup of children and adults in 21 countries, including Nigeria. 

In the survey, previewed in The State of the World’s Children 2021 – a median of 1 in 5 young people aged 15–24 said they often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things.

Warning that the pandemic has taken its toll and that children and young people could feel the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and well-being for many years to come, UNICEF urged for breaking for the silence surrounding mental illness, addressing stigma and promoting better understanding of mental health and taking seriously the experiences of children and young people.

UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Peter Hawkins, who spoke on Monday in Abuja on the release of its flagship report said children have also suffered an increase in violence.

Mental health is an integral part of health, and just as important as physical health – we cannot afford to continue to view it as otherwise. We must commit to understanding and investing more in this critical area so that we maximise every child’s potential and their ability to fulfil their dreams of a full and happy life,” Hawkins stated.

Entitled: On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health, the report noted that even before COVID-19, children and young people carried the burden of mental health conditions without significant investment in addressing them.

According to Hawkins: “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, play – key elements of childhood itself. They 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 just the tip of the iceberg.

Mental health is an integral part of health, and just as important as physical health – we cannot afford to continue to view it as otherwis. We must commit to understanding and investing more in this critical area so that we maximise every child’s potential and their ability to fulfil their dreams of a full and happy life, ” Hawkins remarked.

According to latest available data from UNICEF, globally, at least 1 in 7 children has been directly affected by lockdowns, while more than 1.6 billion children have suffered some loss of education. The disruption to routines, education, recreation, as well as concern for family income and health, is leaving many young people feeling afraid, angry, and concerned for their future.

The report calls on governments, and public and private sector partners, to commit, communicate and act to promote mental health for all children, adolescents and caregivers, protect those in need of help, and care for the most vulnerable, by investing in child and adolescent mental health across sectors, not just in health, to support a whole-of-society approach to prevention, promotion and care.

It argues for integrating and scaling up evidence-based interventions across health, education and social protection sectors – including parenting programmes that promote responsive, nurturing caregiving and support parent and caregiver mental health; and ensuring schools support mental health through quality services and positive relationships.

From the latest available estimates, more than 1 in 7 adolescents aged 10–19 is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental health problem globally. Almost 46,000 adolescents die from suicide each year, among the top five causes of death for their age group.

Already, the data showed wide gaps persist between mental health needs and mental health funding. The report finds that about 2 per cent of government health budgets are allocated to mental health spending globally.

As COVID-19 heads into its third year, the impact on children and young people’s mental health and well-being continues to weigh heavily.

MTO/Punch

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