Children and young people could experience the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and well-being for many years to come, UNICEF warned in its flagship report published yesterday.

According to 'The State of the World's Children, 2021', more than one in seven adolescents aged 10 to 19 years is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder globally.

Almost 46,000 adolescents commit suicide each year that accounts for the top five causes of death for their age group.

Meanwhile, 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.

"It has been a long, long 18 months for all of us – especially children. With nationwide lockdowns and pandemicrelated movement restrictions, children have spent indelible years of their lives away from family, friends, classrooms, play – key elements of childhood itself," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

"The impact is significant, and it is just the tip of the iceberg.

Even before the pandemic, far too many children were burdened under the weight of unaddressed mental health issues. Too little investment has been made by the governments to address these critical needs. Not enough importance has been placed to shorten the gap between mental health and future life outcomes."

As per the report, a median of one in five young people aged 15–24 years surveyed revealed that they often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things. 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. According to the latest available data from UNICEF, globally, at least one in seven 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 has left many young people afraid, angry, and too much concerned about their future.

Mental health features as one of the top three concerns of children and adolescents, according to community respondents in Nepal. Diagnosed mental disorders, including ADHD, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, conduct disorder, depression, eating disorders, intellectual disability, and schizophrenia, can significantly harm children and young people's health, education, life outcomes, and earning capacity.

The report notes that a blend of genetics, experience and environmental factors from the earliest days, including parenting, schooling, quality of relationships, exposure to violence or abuse, discrimination, poverty, humanitarian crises, and health emergencies such as COVID-19, all shape and affect children's mental health throughout their lifetime.

In Nepal, 20 per cent of suicidal ideation are correlated with violence, including gender-based violence and 25 per cent with economic deprivation.

While protective factors such as loving caregivers, safe school environments, and positive peer relationships can help reduce the risk of mental disorders, the report warns that significant barriers, including stigma attached with mental illness and lack of funding have prevented too many children from experiencing positive mental health or accessing necessary support.

The mental health of caregivers is also a critical protective factor for children and adolescents.

Supporting parents and caregivers to identify stressors and promoting help-seeking behaviour will enhance their capacity to care for children when they need it the most. The report calls on the governments as well as public and private sector partners to commit, communicate and act promptly to promote mental health for all children, adolescents and caregivers, protect those in need of help, and care for the most vulnerable ones.

A version of this article appears in the print on October 8, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.