Protecting Our Children’s Mental Health

Today we focus on a subject that is hardly ever mentioned on the platforms of civil society, private sector, public sector or that of the government. It is a subject that stares us in the face all the time and one to which we should pay particular attention to during the reign of COVID-19.

Granted, a lot is happening right now that occupies, almost all the time, the attention of the aforementioned three sectors, however this particular subject is critical and could be a source of great discomfort to families and the nation at large if attention is not given to it.

We are referring to the mental health of our children. According to the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the COVID-19 pandemic has raised concerns about the mental health of a generation of children. However, the pandemic may represent the tip of a mental health iceberg – an iceberg the world may have ignored for far too long.

Are there programmes of a national status that examines our children’s mental health? We are not aware that such programmes exist, but if they do, do they delve into the social determinants that shape mental health and well-being?

Make no mistake, mental health conditions and the lack of caring responses can cause significant suffering for children and young people and are a top cause of death, disease and disability, especially for older adolescents, so stated UNICEF. This, however, does not pertain only to children from rich countries but to those in poor countries as well, Saint Lucia being no exception.

As noted in a report by UNICEF this week “an estimated 13 percent of adolescents aged 10 – 19 is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder.” Our children are not outside that estimation at all. Sometimes the behaviour of some of our adolescents leaves many of us to wonder about their mental health.

Too many of our teenagers today are housed in institutions, due to abhorrent acts they have committed and behaviours they have displayed, that clearly tells us that mentally they need help.

We call on the authorities right now to invest more in promoting good mental health in our children and protect those who are vulnerable as it has been proven that COVID-19 could impact their mental health and well-being for many years to come.

The ‘more’ spoken of calls for commitment, communication and action as part of a comprehensive approach to promoting good mental health for every child. A tall order indeed for our feeble economy but it is one we believe that is not insurmountable. We can make some headway if we try.

Soon we will be entering the third year of the pandemic with no end in sight to the disruption to routines, education, recreation, health, household incomes and the list goes on which leaves many young people afraid, angry and concerned for their future.

According to a UNICEF and Gallup global survey, even before the pandemic, psychosocial distress and poor mental health afflicted far too many children.

We will pay a high price, not only financially, if we continue to neglect the mental health of our children. Our children are our most valued resource, the leaders of tomorrow, therefore we cannot afford to lose the potential to be good and uplifting that is hidden in them. Should that happen, the cost, both economic and social, will be incalculable.

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