The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warns that stay-at-home policies are threatening the mental health of 332 million children worldwide.
In a report released on Thursday, UNICEF said the affected children had been caged at home for at least nine months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the agency, 139 million children globally have lived under required nationwide stay-at-home orders since March 11, 2020 when COVID-19 was characterised as a pandemic.
This, it said, means that they are required to stay at home with few exceptions, and they include children living in Nigeria, Paraguay and Peru.
The remaining 193 million have lived under recommended nationwide stay-at-home policies for the same amount of time, UNICEF said.
The agency quoted its UNICEF Executive Director, Ms Henrietta Fore, as saying that this had left many children “feeling afraid, lonely, anxious and concerned about their future”.
“With nationwide lockdowns and pandemic-related movement restrictions, it has been a long year for all of us, but especially for children.
“When, day after day, you are away from your friends and distant loved ones, and perhaps even stuck at home with an abuser, the impact is significant.
“We must emerge from this pandemic with a better approach to child and adolescent mental health, and that starts by giving the issue the attention it deserves,” Fore said.
UNICEF said that children and young people were already facing mental health risks before the pandemic started.
It added that half of all mental disorders develop before age 15, and 75 per cent by early adulthood.
According to the UN agency, majority of the 800,000 people who die by suicide every year are young people.
It stated that self-harm was the third leading cause of death among 15 to 19-year-olds, with higher rates among adolescent girls.
“It is estimated that globally one in four children live with a parent who has a mental disorder.
“For children experiencing violence, neglect or abuse at home, lockdowns have left many stranded with abusers and without the support of teachers, extended families and communities.
Children in vulnerable population groups, such as those living and working on the streets, children with disabilities, and children living in conflict settings, risk having their mental health needs overlooked entirely,” the report said.
To make matters worse, the pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
This, WHO said, is amid a surge in demands for mental health support globally.
To address the challenge, the UNICEF boss urged countries to invest in expansion of mental health services and support for young people and their caregivers in communities and schools.
“We also need scaled-up parenting programmes to ensure that children from vulnerable families get the support and protection they need at home,” Fore said. (NAN)