Seclusion policies occasioned by the Coronavirus pandemic places the mental health of 332 million children across the globe at risk, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned.
The UN agency said in a report released on Thursday, that the affected children had been confined to their homes since the outbreak of COVID-19 due to stay-at-home-policies emplaced to check the pandemic.
It indicated that 139 million children globally had lived under required nationwide stay-at-home orders since March 11, 2020 when COVID-19 was classified as a pandemic, including children living in Nigeria, Paraguay and Peru.
The remaining 193 million children, according to the report, have lived under recommended nationwide stay-at-home policies for the same period of time.
UNICEF Executive Director, Ms Henrietta Fore, was quoted as saying the situation had left many children “feeling afraid, lonely, anxious and concerned about their future”.
“With nationwide lockdowns and pandemic-related movement restrictions, it has been a long year for all of us, but especially for children. When, day after day, you are away from your friends and distant loved ones, and perhaps even stuck at home with an abuser, the impact is significant.
“We must emerge from this pandemic with a better approach to child and adolescent mental health, and that starts by giving the issue the attention it deserves,” Fore said.
UNICEF said children and young people were already facing mental health risks before the pandemic started, adding that half of all mental disorders develop before age 15, and 75 per cent by early adulthood, with a majority of the 800,000 people who die by suicide every year are young people.
It further stated that self-harm was the third leading cause of death among 15 to 19-year-olds, with higher rates among adolescent girls.
“It is estimated that globally one in four children live with a parent who has a mental disorder. For children experiencing violence, neglect or abuse at home, lockdowns have left many stranded with abusers and without the support of teachers, extended families and communities.
Children in vulnerable population groups such as those living and working on the streets; children with disabilities and children living in conflict settings, risk having their mental health needs overlooked entirely”, the report said.
The pandemic has also disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries amid a surge in demands for mental health support globally, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
To address the challenge, the UNICEF boss urged countries to invest in expansion of mental health services and support for young people and their caregivers in communities and schools.“We also need scaled-up parenting programmes to ensure that children from vulnerable families get the support and protection they need at home”.
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