Remarks by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore at the European Commission High Level Conference on the Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health


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NEW YORK, May 10, 2021 “Commissioner Kyriakides, colleagues, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

“UNICEF applauds the EU’s leadership in the area of ​​mental health and children’s rights. Including its recent adoption of the strategy on the rights of the child and guarantee of the child, both of which focus on mental health.

“These milestones – like this discussion – are important and timely.

“The COVID-19 pandemic – and measures such as school closings, lockdowns and physical distancing – has taken a heavy toll on children and young people in all countries.

“Their physical health. The economic health of their families. Their learning and development. Their well-being and their vision of the future.

“And certainly, their sanity.

“New data indicates that the effects on mental health will be significant and long-lasting. Especially in the poorest countries and neighborhoods. And for the most disadvantaged children – those living with disabilities, migrants and refugees, ethnic minorities or those living in humanitarian situations. like conflicts.

“The situation is no different in Europe. In fact, one in five adolescents in Europe suffers from mental health problems.

“A recent OECD survey of youth organizations found that poor mental health is one of the biggest impacts of COVID-19.

And a recent UNICEF rapid review of the impact of COVID on children and adolescents in 77 countries – including 20 European countries – found that children and adolescents report increased stress, anxiety and stress. substance use.

“They don’t go to school. They don’t see their friends. They don’t have access to recreational and social activities. They are victims of abuse or neglect. And so often they are afraid to seek help for cultural reasons, norms and stigma, which remains very high.

“At the same time, these young people face a barrier that affects everyone struggling with their mental health: the lack of services.

“All countries – rich and poor alike – face a huge gap between mental health needs and access to quality services.

“In Europe, only around a third of people with common mental health problems receive the care they need. In the poorest countries, this figure can be as low as five percent.

“Low investment in services, limited trained workforce capacity, insufficient awareness and stigma all play a role.

“COVID-19 has made the situation even worse with lockdowns putting many mental health services – including counseling and psychosocial support – out of reach.

“UNICEF sees this as a critical time to reinvent mental health systems in the years to come and make them more responsive to the needs of our younger generation – through and beyond COVID-19.

“In fact, the mental health of children and adolescents has long been an essential part of UNICEF’s work.

health care systems, including health, education and welfare.

“We are also working closely with researchers in Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden to deepen our understanding of adolescent mental health.

“We are working with adolescents themselves to develop innovative solutions that can support mental health. This includes using digital platforms to create peer mentoring systems, so young people can help and support each other. We want to develop promising solutions like this. .

“And our next flagship product The situation of children in the world The report for 2021 will focus entirely on mental health and well-being.

“But there is so much more to do.

“And we must do it together, including with our European partners.

“UNICEF urges EU Member States to focus on three key areas of work.

“First – work with us to develop mental health “intervention packages”. This could include home-based solutions like parenting programs… school-based initiatives like safe spaces and teacher training… and placing mental health supports, like counseling, at the heart of local health and social systems.

“Second – continue to lend your voice and advocate for the mental health needs of children and youth living in humanitarian situations. From children on the move as migrants or refugees in Europe… to those living in conflict situations in Yemen, Syria, South Sudan or so many other places. We need Europe’s help to continue to garner global support and funding around the needs of these children and families who have suffered so much. Help us defend these needs in the halls of power.

“And thirdly – share your experiences and best practices not only with each other, but with countries around the world. Europe is home to excellent models of mental health programs and support – including initiatives that directly involve young people.

“As you strengthen these programs at home, they can inspire other countries looking to better support the mental health of their younger citizens.

“Throughout, you can count on the support of UNICEF.

“Together, we can give mental health the priority it deserves in investments, programs and policies.

“And we can support a generation of children and youth who look to the future with the hope and optimism that every child deserves.

“Thank you.”

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