A comprehensive report by Unicef paints a raw picture of the breadth, scope and impact of mental health challenges on young people — across the globe.
Entitled, ‘The State of the World’s Children 2021’, the report examines the situation before, during and after the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“It’s a very, very big problem,” says Rowena Pinto, Chief Program Officer at Unicef Canada. “It’s really going to take a really holistic approach, and a real dedication from a number of sectors to really improve the situation for children and their mental health.”
Pinto spoke to Lianne Castelino during an interview for Where Parents Talk radio, shedding further light on the story behind the stark numbers revealed in the report, which is published annually.
As the “world’s leading humanitarian organization focused on children,” Unicef is part of the United Nations. The organization’s work impacts children in more than 190 countries.
“It’s estimated that more than 13% of young people globally live with a diagnosed mental disorder,” Pinto says. This number begins to paint a picture of the scope of this epidemic across the globe.
40% anxiety and depression-related disorders
46,000 adolescents die from suicide annually, globally (1 every 11 minutes)
75% Canadian youth surveyed described deteriorating mental health during Covid-19
Of the young people in Canada polled by Unicef who described worsening mental health during the pandemic, Pinto says, “a quarter of them actually said that they didn’t know who to turn to or didn’t have anyone to turn to with their issues.”
As a mother of three, Pinto admits to finding the report results sobering. “I think one of the biggest things that really surprised me is that mental health is more than a health issue, ” she says.
“I think many of us want to be able to find a quick fix for this. But as I was reading the report and having seen my own children having to live through the pandemic and seeing how every aspect of their childhood was adversely affected,” she says.
As part of a Q&A, Pinto shared some suggestions for parents:
How would you characterize a parent’s role in the overall mental health of their child?
Children look to their parents for love, learning and safety. Parents are responsible for helping children feel secure and cared for in the early years, which go a long way in building the groundwork for a lifetime of good mental health.
In later years, when children feel stressed or overwhelmed, they need a loving adult to help reassure them and help them to navigate their feelings.
Nurturing and supportive parenting remains one of the strongest protectors of mental health throughout childhood and into adulthood.
What specific, actionable steps can parents take to support the mental well-being of their teen and young adult?
The UNICEF parenting hub provides many resources for how to best support your child’s mental well-being.
According to our experts, the best steps parents can take to support the mental well-being of their teen, or young adult is to encourage them to share their feelings, work through conflict together, take the time to support them, and demonstrate self-care.
Parents and caregivers know their child best, and are the best people to know when a child feels sad, struggles at school, or feels a bit lost. If parents are concerned about the mental well-being of their teen or young adult, the best step they can take is to start a conversation, even when it feels uncomfortable.
Parents should be open with their own feelings and stress as well. Showing vulnerability to your teen will communicate that it’s okay for them to share their feelings too. Knowing that they can talk to you about their worries or problems can make a world of difference.
When working through conflicts together, parents should listen and acknowledge. Sometimes as parents, we fall into the habit of telling our children what they should do, instead of asking how we can help them.
With the added stress of the pandemic and lockdowns, parents should support their kids and help develop new routines for dealing with demands like work, chores and schoolwork.
Finally, parents should take time to look after their own needs. COVID-19 has been tough on parents too. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, take time to manage your own stress. Showing self-care will help model the behaviour to your child.
The State of the World’s Children 2021