Every 11 minutes, an adolescent dies by suicide: UNICEF

A first of its kind report on the state of mental health amongst the children and adolescents sheds light on how the risks and protective factors in the homes, schools and community shape mental health outcomes. The report also mentions that COVID19 pandemic may represent only the tip of a mental health iceberg. Details here.

Gaon Connection
| Updated: October 14th, 2021

According to a report published by the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), more than 13 per cent of adolescents aged 10–19 live with a diagnosed mental disorder as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The percentage translates into numbers as 89 million adolescent boys and 77 million adolescent girls aged 10–19 are suffering with a mental disorder worldwide.

The report which is titled as ‘The State of the World’s Children 2021’ was published on October 6 and further mentions that every year, almost 46,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 end their own lives – about one every eleven minutes. Numerically, an estimated number of 45,800 adolescents die from suicide each year.

The report calls for societies to ‘break the silence surrounding mental health, by addressing stigma, promoting understanding, and taking seriously the experiences of children and young people’.

Talking about the medical infrastructure for the youth battling psychological disorders, the report noted that the number of psychiatrists who specialise in treating children and adolescents was fewer than 0.1 per 100,000 in all but high-income countries, where the figure was 5.5 per 100,000. 

Emphasis on adverse childhood experiences

The UNICEF report underlines that mental health is tied to critical moments of brain development, which can be affected by factors such as toxic stress triggered by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as physical and emotional abuse, chronic neglect and violence. 

“Research has shown that exposure to at least four ACEs is strongly associated with sexual risk taking, mental health conditions and alcohol abuse; it is even more strongly associated with problematic drug use and interpersonal and self-directed violence,” the report noted.

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Talking about the risk factors that increase the chances for poor mental health amongst children, the report noted factors like low birthweight, maternal malnutrition, maternal mental health and adolescent parenthood. 

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The report also informed that globally, 15 per cent of children are born at a low birthweight, while about 15 per cent of girls become mothers before age 18.  In childhood, risk factors include poor nutrition and violent disciplinary upbringing. 

“In the world’s least developed countries, 83 per cent of children experience violent discipline from caregivers and 22 per cent are in a form of child labour,” the report noted.

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Recommendations by UNICEF for a better child mental health

UNICEF highlights that mental health is woefully underfunded and calls for more investment towards mental health prevention and promotion. “Many governments spend only a few cents per capita directly on mental health, and allocations from international development assistance are meagre. Most spending goes into psychiatric services, meaning that almost nothing is spent on mental health prevention or promotion,” it stated in the report.

It also suggests tackling stigmas around mental health, opening conversations and improving mental health literacy.

The United Nations agency also stressed upon the need to ensure that children, young people and people with lived experience are part of the conversation, that they have a voice and can meaningfully engage in the development of mental health responses.

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