New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across the globe afflicting millions and killing lakhs of people. The pandemic not only scared people with its contagiousness but also heavily affected the mental health of people including children who lost their close ones at such a tender age.

In line with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Report 2021 has warned that children and young people could feel the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and well-being for many years to come. The report shows how even before COVID-19, children and young people carried the burden of mental health conditions without significant investment in addressing them.

Around the world and in India, mental disorders are a significant and often ignored cause of suffering that interfere with children’s and young people’s health and education and their ability to reach their full potential:  

- In India, children with mental health disorders are mostly undiagnosed and hesitant in seeking help or treatment.  

- Even before the pandemic, at least 50 million children in India were affected by mental health issues; 80 – 90 per cent have not sought support (Indian Journal of Psychiatry 2019).

- According to a survey conducted by UNICEF and Gallup in 21 countries in the first half of 2021, around 14 per cent of respondents aged between 15 to 24in India reported often feeling depressed or having little interest in doing things.

The cost of inaction is great in terms of the toll it takes in human lives, on families and communities, and on the economy:

- In India, one student commits suicide every hour, with about 28 such suicides reported every day, according to the National Crime Records Bureau2018 and 2019.

- The economic loss due to mental health conditions in India between 2012-2030 is estimated at USD 1.03 trillion (WHO).

- Despite widespread demand for responses to protect children’s mental health, investment remains negligible. India has spent only 0.05 per cent of its total health budget annually on mental health(Indian Journal of Psychiatry 2019).  

Mental health is widely stigmatized and misunderstood in India:

- Young people overwhelmingly believe it is better to seek help from others on mental health issues than to try to deal with them on their own, according to a survey conducted by UNICEF and Gallup in 21 countries in the first half of 2021.

- However, India was the only exception, with only 41 per cent of young people supporting the option that it is better for young people to seek help from others.

- Almost 47 per cent of respondents in India believe mental health is a personal matter that people can best work through on their own without seeking help.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected children’s mental health:

- During the pandemic, there has been widespread concern over how lockdowns affected people’s mental health and happiness.

- School closures, a traumatic second wave of the virus, loss and grief has isolated children more than ever before.

- The experience of children and adolescents during the pandemic underlines the importance of resilience. Teaching them life skills, and positive interactions with parents/caregivers, teachers, peers and neighbours matter.

Through the State of the World’s Children 2021, UNICEF is calling for commitment to promoting good mental health for every child by:

- Strengthening leadership with partners on clear goals and investment in solutions.

- Breaking the silence surrounding mental health, addressing stigmas, improving mental health literacy, and ensuring children, adolescents and young people have a voice.

- Working to minimize risk factors and investing in workforce development to support children, adolescents, young people, families, parents and caregivers.  

UNICEF provides support on children’s mental health in 17 states across India:

- UNICEF India works with partners to help children to cope with adversity before, during and after a crisis.

- Between January 2020 and June 2021, 620,000 children and their parents/caregivers were supported with mental health and psychosocial services. Around15,000 child protection functionaries were also trained during the same period.

- UNICEF works closely with the Government of India, especially with the Ministries of Women and Child Development and Health and Family Welfare, the National Health Systems Resource Centre (NHSRC), and partners like National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), and Childline to strengthen services.

 Case Studies:

- Niharika Lohar, Dibrugarh, Assam: For 15-year-old Niharika who lives in a tea garden estate in Assam, the COVID-19 pandemic was a life changer. Studying in class 10 with dreams of becoming a software engineer, the young girl now had to deal with the stress of school closure, disruption in her studies and extended social isolation. With the help of UNICEF and MIND India’s Samarthya program, she learnt to adapt her life to the new normal and is now motivating others to do the same.

“I used to feel bad about the number of COVID cases; it was very scary. But somehow, I cleared class 10, and now I am trying my best to use online tools like YouTube channels with videos in Assamese to continue my learning. Now, I am not too scared of the pandemic as I know what precautions I have to take. The facilitator of the Samarthya program has given us a lot of information about COVID-19 and how to adapt our lives around it.”

Mental health counselling can play a critical role in children’s lives. From the shy girl who used to sit on the last bench in her classroom, Niharika has transformed into a confident girl who is not afraid to express herself freely. “I have learnt a lot about self-esteem, emotional well-being and anger management. I also try to motivate others. There was a girl who used to come to my place to play every day. But after the pandemic started, her parents would not allow her to go anywhere. I met with her parents and told them how social interaction and play is important for their daughter’s good health and convinced them to allow her to come out to play again.”  

- Maliha Fatima, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh: It was not easy for Maliha Fatima when her pregnant sister tested positive for COVID-19 and her uncle passed away from the disease. The stigma she felt during that time has made her more determined to be a source of hope and light in everyone’s lives. “Last year in August, my sister tested COVID positive when she was nine months pregnant, and in September I lost my paternal uncle due to COVID-19. It was a terrible period for the entire family and what made the situation worse was how my neighbours and some of my relatives reacted to it. We felt like we were aliens on this planet. Even after months, they were scared of us. That was the moment when I promised myself that I won’t let this pandemic turn me into some heartless creature.”

- Dhanushree Dasmana, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh: The grief and distress around COVID-19 inspired Dhanushree to use her design skills to create awareness around mental health. She hopes that all of us will step in and stop the spread of the pandemic. “I’m working on spreading awareness regarding vaccination, designing some jingles which can spread awareness in rural India, and running some campaigns around mental health. Mental health is very important; we all are grieving here.”

Posted By: Talibuddin Khan