One in five young people across the world ‘often feel depressed’, Unicef reports

Just two per cent of government budgets are allocated to mental health spending globally

<p>Group of young teenagers sitting side by side</p>

Group of young teenagers sitting side by side

Almost one in five young people aged between 15 and 24 “often feel depressed” or like they have little interest in carrying out everyday tasks, according to new research.

The report, “The State of the World’s Children 2021”, published on Tuesday 5 October by Unicef, found that the Covid-19 pandemic, poverty and gender norms are impacting young people’s mental health.

A survey of 20,000 people from 21 countries, conducted by Gallup and Unicef between February and June, found that 19 per cent of respondents often struggle with depression.

More than one in three young people in Cameroon and Mali reported regularly feeling depressed, while one in five people in the UK and one in ten people in Ethiopia and Japan felt the same way.

Unicef estimates that more than 13 per cent of young people aged between 10 and 19 live with a diagnosed mental disorder – a total of 166 million adolescents.

According to its latest figures, 46,000 young people die from suicide each year, but just two per cent of government health budgets are allocated to mental health spending globally.

Henrietta Fore, Unicef’s executive director, said that while lockdown restrictions implemented during the last 18 months contributed to a decline in young people’s mental health, the pandemic “represents merely the tip of the iceberg”.

“It has been a long, long 18 months for all of us – especially children. With nationwide lockdowns and pandemic-related movement restrictions, children have spent indelible years of their lives away from family, friends, classrooms, play – key elements of childhood itself.

“Even before the pandemic, far too many children were burdened under the weight of unaddressed mental health issues.

“Too little investment is being made by governments to address these critical needs. Not enough importance is being placed on the relationship between mental health and future life outcomes,” she said.

Unicef also worked with researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to hear from adolescents from 13 countries including Egypt, the US, Belgium and China.

The research found that stigma around mental health is a “detriment” to dealing with problems.

“With stress and mental illness, for many, it’s a very anxious subject. And you don’t really want to talk about it,” one teenager from Sweden said.

Both male and female participants discussed the role of gender norms on mental health, with most agreeing that expressing mental distress was deemed “less acceptable” for boys.

Others said poverty had a complex impact on their mental health, with one adolescent from Malawi telling researchers that not being able to “dress up” for school like some of their peers had led to bullying.

Fore highlighted that the current understanding of children’s mental health is “partial” and “skewed heavily towards the world’s wealthiest countries”.

“That means we know too little of how children and young people in most parts of the world experience mental health. It also means we know too little of the potential strengths and support that diverse communities and cultures may be able to offer children and families,” she said.

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