Coronavirus crisis forced school closures, upended the lives of children and adolescents

Governments must pour more money and resources into preserving the mental well-being of children and adolescents, the U.N.’s child protection agency urged in a report Tuesday that sounded alarms about blows to mental health from the COVID-19 pandemic that hit poor and vulnerable children particularly hard, the Associated Press reports.

The United Nations Children’s Fund said its “State of the World’s Children” study is its most comprehensive look so far this century at the mental health of children and adolescents globally. The coronavirus crisis, forcing school closures that upended the lives of children and adolescents, has thrust the issue of their mental well-being to the fore.

UNICEF said it may take years to fully measure the extent of the pandemic’s impact on young people’s mental health. Psychiatrists quickly saw signs of distress, with children and adolescents seeking help for suicidal thoughts, anxiety, eating disorders and other difficulties as lockdowns and switching to remote learning severed them from friends and routines and as COVID-19 killed parents and grandparents.

“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,” said UNICEF’s executive director, Henrietta Fore.

“The impact is significant, and it is just the tip of the iceberg,” Fore said. “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.”

Pediatric psychiatrists say they were already short of resources before the pandemic brought a surge in caseloads. UNICEF said spending on promoting and protecting mental health “is extremely low” yet the needs are pressing. Citing pre-pandemic figures from 2019, UNICEF estimated nearly 46,000 children and adolescents ages 10 to 19 end their own lives every year.

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