The U.N. Children’s Fund says children are likely to suffer most from the monthslong COVID-related restrictions, school closures, and separation from family and friends.

The latest estimates show more than one in seven adolescents aged 10 to 19 suffer from mental health disorders globally, while nearly 46,000 adolescents commit suicide every year.

UNICEF spokesman James Elder told VOA most of these conditions are not being addressed because of the stigma attached to mental illness and the lack of government investment. Only about two percent of government health budgets are allocated to mental health spending globally, he said. 

“Twenty percent … of young people are saying that they are feeling depressed and have very little interest in things,” he said. “That again is a clear indication of the impact COVID’s been having. … There is a whole range of mental disorders — anxiety and depression and bipolar — that young people are suffering from.”

UNICEF reports more than 1.6 billion children have suffered some loss of education because of pandemic lockdowns. Elder said children’s mental health often deteriorates when there is a disruption to their daily routines, such as not attending school, not engaging in recreational activities, and not socializing with friends. These problems, he said, affect children all over the world, in rich and poor countries alike. 

“Of course, if you are from a country where you do not have connectivity, you do not have a laptop or one of your parents is on $200 a month, then, of course, those stresses, that anxiety, that risk of slipping into a mental health disorder is much greater,” he said. “And in some of the world’s poorest countries, governments are spending less than a dollar per person treating mental health conditions.”

The cost of ignoring mental disorders is enormous, UNICEF warned. It cited a new analysis by the London School of Economics, which indicates nearly $390 billion in human capital is lost every year due to mental disorders among young people.

 

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