At least 1 in 7 children – or 332 million globally – has lived under required or recommended nationwide stay-at-home policies for at least nine months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting their mental health and well-being at risk, UNICEF has warned.
While almost all children worldwide have lived under some form of intermittent lockdowns for the last year, the new analysis by UNICEF, which uses data from the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, identifies some of the most enduring lockdown conditions worldwide.
According to the analysis, 139 million children globally have lived under required nationwide stay-at-home orders for at least nine months since COVID-19 was characterized as a pandemic on 11 March 2020 – meaning they are required to stay at home with few exceptions – including children living in countries such as Paraguay, Peru and Nigeria. The rest of the 332 million – or 193 million – have lived under recommended nationwide stay-at-home policies for the same amount of time.
“With nationwide lockdowns and pandemic-related movement restrictions, it has been a long year for all of us, but especially for children,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“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. Many children are left feeling afraid, lonely, anxious, and concerned for their future. 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.”
With the pandemic well into its second year, the impact on children and young people’s mental health and psychosocial well-being is taking a toll.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, a UNICEF poll of young people generated more than 8,000 responses and found that more than a quarter had experienced anxiety, and 15 per cent depression.
Even before the pandemic, children and young people carried the burden of mental health risks, with half of all mental disorders developing before age 15, and 75 per cent by early adulthood. The majority of the 800,000 people who die by suicide every year are young people, and self-harm is the third leading cause of death among 15–19-year-olds, with higher rates among adolescent girls. It is estimated that globally 1 in 4 children live with a parent who has a mental disorder.
Later this year, UNICEF will dedicate its biennial flagship report, State of the World’s Children, to child and adolescent mental health, in an effort to increase awareness of the global challenge and provide solutions, and to encourage governments to place heightened focus on the issue.