10 October 2021 - Global

Mind our Rights, Now! Join children and youth in breaking the silence around mental health and wellbeing

Sami* lifts up his daughter Layla*, 9, and hugs her in the garden of their home, surrounded by plants, in Beirut, Lebanon

I have just returned from Yemen where I saw firsthand some of the challenges faced by children in the midst of ongoing conflict and deprivation. The continued chaos we witness in conflict settings and around the globe assures me that realising mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) for children in humanitarian contexts is urgent, critical and lifesaving.

And this isn’t just an issue for children in conflict. Today, on World Mental Health Day 2021, 1 in 7 children between 10-19 years old are diagnosed with a mental health disorder according to UNICEF’s latest report The State of the World’s Children 2021; On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health. This shocking finding does not even cover the millions of children with psychosocial distress due to exposure to serious adversities, including COVID 19, that disrupts their lives, health and dreams for the future. There is an urgent need for increased child and adolescent MHPSS prevention, promotion and treatment services.

Bringing young people’s voices directly to decision-makers.

Last week a World Mental Health Ministerial Summit on October 5th and 6th provided a chance to spotlight this issue on the global stage. Save the Children and the MHPSS Collaborative supported inclusion of youth voices on the importance of investing in child and adolescent mental health care. Youth called upon us all to talk more openly about our mental health and wellbeing, and not to suffer in silence. They said people need to know ‘it is okay to not be okay’.

Fatoumata, a passionate 24-year-old youth advocate from Mali identified psychosocial support as key to the protection and promotion of children’s rights – without distinction for race, ethnicity or nationality. She called for world leaders to be aware of the needs for MHPSS for both boys and girls, and to be aware that boys may be less likely to seek help or speak out.

Youth are also proposing solutions. One 18-year-old youth advocate from Syria raises her voice with Save the Children for better access to MHPSS: “Globally we need an open forum for all youth around the world to reach out where you can simply say ‘I am not doing okay, I need help’. On a global level we need that stability”.

How can we work together to create change?

The youth’s message at the Summit was very clear: We need to end stigma and break the silence to ensure children and young people’s voices are heard and that they can receive support. Only through their active engagement in designing solutions will mental health responses be relevant and effective.

Youth rightfully say that it is quite shameful to still, in 2021, be asking for choice, liberty and dignity in having their mental health rights met. To echo a young schoolteacher Sahar from Belize who shared her story at the Summit: “Time is up, change needs to happen. Children with anxiety should no longer be called crazy, or those who feel depressed and cannot get up from bed in the morning are called lazy. There is a real need to unite, collaborate and join forces to break the silence and invest in mental health literacy, address inequalities, discrimination and rapidly scale up funding and systems to ensure quality care for children, adolescents and their families in need of MHPSS.”

These recommendations are in full support of Save the Children’s urgent call for action in the Copenhagen Action Plan 2020 jointly developed with the MHPSS Collaborative, bridging recommendations between the 2019 Amsterdam and 2021 Paris Mental Health Summits.

Save the Children is joining the call to action by young people to Mind Their Rights Now! With five priority actions for the international community to:

  1. Increase long-term, flexible funding to MHPSS
  2. Mainstream, integrate and coordinate inclusive and accessible MHPSS across sectors
  3. Act early and across the life course
  4. Increase access to evidence-based and community-grounded MHPSS
  5. Invest in workforce mental health capacity and wellbeing

It is critical that world leaders hear the demands of young people and support their call for commitment, action and communication on the right to mental health and wellbeing at all levels. Because only together can we break the silence around mental ill-health and urgently increase investments in MHPSS services across all sectors.

To find out more, check out Save the Children’s Policy Statement outlining key calls to action to recognize children’s right to mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.