COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive poor mental health among children and young people
UNICEF and Department of Mental Health caution on World Mental Health Day
BANGKOK October 8, 2021 – Marking the World Mental Health Day on 10 October, UNICEF and Department of Mental Health (DMH) expressed concerns over the continued negative impact of COVID-19 on children and young people’s mental health in Thailand as significant numbers of adolescents face stress, anxiety and depression.
A recent mental health assessment among adolescents in Thailand found that 28 per cent of adolescents experience high levels of stress, while 32 per cent are at risk of depression and 22 per cent are at risk of committing suicide, according to DMH’s Mental Health Check-in, an online mental health evaluation platform which collected data from 183,974 adolescents during the 18-month of COVID-19 pandemic from 1 January 2020 – 30 September 2021.
In a separate UNICEF-led survey last year, 7 in 10 children and young people reported poorer mental health due to the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. Most of them were concerned about family household incomes, their studies, and future education and employment.
“Increasing numbers of children and adolescents in Thailand and around the world are facing mental health conditions and disorders, and we believe this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Kyungsun Kim, UNICEF Representative for Thailand. “Although the impact of poor mental health among children and young people is significant with the potential to result in lifelong consequences, mental health remains largely neglected and under-estimated, often times even hidden due to the stigma and shame surrounding the issue. This is something all of us must address, to destigmatize mental health conditions, encourage conversation around it, and make services and support easily available for those who need it.”
Earlier this week, UNICEF released a global flagship report The State of the World’s Children 2021; On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health which points out that at least 1 in 7 children around the world has been directly affected by lockdowns, while more than 1.6 billion children have suffered some loss of education. The report also warns that children and young people could suffer from the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and well-being for many years to come.
Even before the pandemic, children and young people have carried the burden of mental health conditions without significant investment in addressing them, the report added. According to the latest available estimates, more than 1 in 7 adolescents aged 10–19 is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder globally. Almost 46,000 adolescents die from suicide each year, among the top five causes of death for their age group.
In Thailand, suicide is the leading cause of death among adolescents. In 2019, about 800 adolescents and young people aged 10-29 years old committed suicide, according to DMH. The 2019 data from the DMH’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Rajanagarindra Institute (CAMRI) also shows that more than 10,000 children aged 10-19 called to seek mental health support via Hotline 1323, with top three issues reported during the calls being related to stress and anxiety, romantic relationship, and depression.
Dr. Amporn Benjapolpitak, Director-General of DMH, said the pandemic has significantly affected children, young people and parents. For children who are not adjusting to the new learning environment, their education and development may be affected in the long run. Many parents are not able to balance work and taking care of their children. COVID-19 restrictions, including physical distancing and fewer outdoor activities, have not only affected family bonds but also caused stress among children. Many have become less sociable and more addicted to devices. This also leads to more incidences of family conflicts and domestic violence, resulting in mental health challenges or even suicide. DMH is working with related agencies and UNICEF to monitor children and young people’s mental health more closely.
A lack of knowledge and awareness on mental health, associated stigma and a lack of mental health resources and funding are preventing too many children and adolescents from experiencing positive mental health or accessing the support and services they need. According to CAMRI, Thailand has only 200 psychiatrists specialized on children and adolescent mental health for 15 million adolescent population.
UNICEF and DMH are working with partners to promote access to quality and timely mental health support and services for children and young people. The partnership also aims to break the silence surrounding mental health conditions through encouraging dialogue, addressing stigma, and promoting better understanding of mental health among children and adolescents, parents and society as a whole.
In 2020, UNICEF, DMH and JOOX Thailand implemented The Sound of Happiness campaign to encourage children and adolescents to speak up about their mental health and well-being and seek support. Through podcasts and songs, the campaign aimed at addressing negative perceptions around mental health and encouraging young people to talk about mental health challenges with their friends and family or someone they trust.
“UNICEF is committed to working with DMH, the education authorities, and other partners to ensure that children are growing and learning in a safe, loving and protective environment that supports their mental well-being. We want to make sure that children and adolescents can always access friendly, timely and quality professional mental health services whenever they need them.” Kim added.