COVID-19 and Children’s Mental Health
The health and wellbeing of children now and in the future depends on overcoming new challenges that are escalating at such speed as to threaten the progress and successes of the past two decades in child health.
The pandemic has been hard on everyone but it has been particularly difficult for children.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many more children experiencing domestic violence and psychosocial distress, which has been compounded by disruptions to their education, support networks and care services.
We know that violence affected far too many children before the pandemic. It is widespread and often hidden from public view in homes, schools, communities and online.
Children who are exposed to violence and trauma are significantly more likely to develop mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic-stress, and behavioral and substance use disorders. They are also more likely to die by suicide.
There is no health, and there is no wellbeing, without mental health. And in this regard, we are, far too often, failing our young people. 10% of children and adolescents around the world experience a mental disorder. And for young people, suicide is a leading cause of death.
We must step up efforts to improve prevention, diagnosis & treatment of mental health conditions in children, taking into consideration its links with violence. Too many children are facing violence, which makes them significantly more likely to develop mental health conditions.
Both investment and action are needed urgently to address determinants of mental health & violence. Urgent action is required to address the mental health impacts of violence and trauma experienced during childhood and which has been amplified during this pandemic.
As the country accelerates it’s efforts to end COVID19 pandemic, giving children the support they need must be a top priority as we come out of it. We must help them come to terms with what they have experienced and have a chance at a more hopeful future.
Mental health concerns have long been a neglected part of well-being. This is a wake-up call to do more for the mental health of all children in Kenya and give it the investment it deserves. It has always been a matter of life and death; it is time it is treated as such.
Immediate investment is needed to expand mental health services including systematic and upgraded psychological screening and profession support for young people in schools and communities.
There is an opportunity to build on parenting programmes to ensure that children from vulnerable families get the support and protection they need at home. It is only through a holistic, multi-pronged approach can we give children the support they need.
We must develop sevidence-informed strategies to promote and protect children mental health. These strategies focus on: the implementation and enforcement of laws and policies; environments to promote and protect children mental health; the provision of support to parents and other caregivers; and psychosocial interventions for children, including for groups exposed to vulnerabilities.
The evidence is clear: early investments in children’s health, education, and development have benefits that compound throughout the child’s lifetime, for their future children, and society as a whole. Successful societies invest in their children and protect their rights, as is evident from countries that have done well on health and economic measures over the past few decades.
Social movements must play a transformational role in demanding the rights that communities need to care for children and provide for families.
Since threats to child health and wellbeing originate in all sectors, a deliberately multisectoral approach is needed to ensure children survive and thrive from today and in the future. Government must harness coalitions across sectors to overcome ecological and commercial pressures to ensure children receive their rights and entitlements now and a liveable planet in the years to come.
Political commitment at executive level is needed to coordinate across sectors and leverage synergies across the life course, ensuring universal health coverage; good nutrition and food security for all; thoughtful urban planning; safe and affordable housing and transport; clean energy for all; and equitable social welfare policies.
Children and young people are full of energy, ideas, and hope for the future. They are also angry at the state of the world. Worldwide, school-children and young people are protesting about environmental threats from fossil fuel economies. We must find better ways to amplify their voices and skills for the planet’s sustainable and healthy future.
More immediately, we must respond to environmental and existential threats, which jeopardise the future for children on this planet. We require a holistic view of the child, whose wellbeing is at the centre of humanity.
Always remember, there is no health, without mental health.
The Author is a Consumer Rights Advocate at Consumer Grassroots Association, Kenya.