Mental health is central to providing quality care to children and young people. It is essential not only for the wellbeing of each child or young person, but also for care practitioners. Concerted awareness raising to identify the adverse effects of mental illness to individuals and society is necessary and urgent. We must mobilize commitments and resources for actions to promote mental health without leaving any child, caregiver and family behind.
Globally, huge numbers of people suffer from lack of treatment of mental illness. The World Health Organization assessed in 2022 that almost one billion people worldwide suffer from some form of mental disorder. In 2019, 14% of children between 10 and 19 years old lived with mental disorders – before the crises generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Depression and anxiety went up by 25% in one year due to this global pandemic, with young people and women being the hardest hit.
Research and experience[i] demonstrate that children and youth who have lost, or who risk losing, parental care are exposed to greater psychosocial vulnerabilities, compared to their peers, and that can actually reflect in a higher risk to face mental health challenges into adulthood.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) [ii], such as violence, abuse and neglect, can deeply affect a child, impacting his or her own physical health, personal, mental and psychosocial, and social development. This impacts their physical and emotional wellbeing. For example, “psychosomatic manifestations” such as headaches or stomach-aches, or "difficult behaviours" such as outbursts of anger, bullying, isolation, and dissociation are signs of distress not always apparent.
The wellbeing of each child or young person depends upon the wellbeing and health of the caregivers, their families and all other people entrusted with their nurturing. We must therefore also promote and support each care practitioner, including promoting self-care practices that could also benefit and enable families to thrive. This may mean addressing stigma, encouraging networking, sharing good practices in the communities, and advocating for scaling up mental health at all levels of implementation, from the field to decision making spaces.[iii]
Communities, organizations and institutions who are aware of the importance of mental well-being, and its impact on the lives of children, young people, and their caring adults, and who are willing to maintain it through active commitment, can constitute the fruitful foundation for an effective change[iv] to reach a true condition of “mental health for all”.
Awareness, change, safety and empowerment to build resilience are core principles of trauma informed practice developed for and with our care practitioners and with active participation of care experienced young people in some of our member associations – a best practice that could benefit other stakeholders. This, and other lessons drawn from initiatives such as SOS CVI’s Global Programme Expert Group (GPEG) on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) to prevent abuse, build resilience, and provide immediate support to children, young people and their care givers can greatly contribute to them becoming their strongest selves and break cycles of harm and abuse.
While treatment and rehabilitation are critical, equally important is ensuring that sound investment is placed in prevention of mental health disorders. This includes, among other things, creating and enabling healthy and safe environments – at home, in school or in the workplace-, as well as ensuring each one of us develops self-care practices that nurture our mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing.
Promoting Mental Health is a daunting challenge for childcare organizations like SOS Children’s Villages. We all have a shared responsibility to continue strengthening a culture that fosters mental health and wellbeing at all levels across all our programmes, our workforce and in our relations with external partners . We commend everyone who is paying greater attention to mental health at the workplace and placing key values and competences at the workplace that enhance healthy and protective spaces for wellness and mental health. These include promoting competencies such as kindness, inclusiveness, collaboration, and empowerment, and ensuring we all become role models to each other
As we commemorate World Mental Health Day, we can acknowledge that world leaders met in the framework of the United Nations General Assembly a few weeks ago to renew their commitment to ensuring health for all, including mental health. In his context, I call upon all stakeholders that a special emphasis and focus should be placed on those that are at higher risk of suffering from lack of support, including children without or at risk of losing parental care.
[i] Østby, Gudrun; Siri Aas Rustad & Andreas Forø Tollefsen (2020) Children Affected by Armed Conflict, 1990–2019, Conflict Trends, 6. Oslo: PRIO.
Ceccarelli, C., Prina, E., Muneghina, O., Jordans, M., Barker, E., Miller, K., . . . Purgato, M. (2022). Adverse childhood experiences and global mental health: Avenues to reduce the burden of child and adolescent mental disorders. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 31, E75. doi:10.1017/S2045796022000580
[ii] Ceccarelli, C., Prina, E., Muneghina, O., Jordans, M., Barker, E., Miller, K., . . . Purgato, M. (2022). Adverse childhood experiences and global mental health: Avenues to reduce the burden of child and adolescent mental disorders. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 31, E75. doi:10.1017/S2045796022000580
[iii] ESAF SOS Children’s Villages International Conference (2023). Mental Health is not Mental Illness: Debunking Mental Health taboos in Africa. International Conference, September 5th – 7th 2023
[iv] Teresa W. Ngigi, PhD - Breaking the cycle | Website
SOS Children’s Villages International (2022). Safe Places, Thriving Children: Embedding Trauma-Informed Practices into Alternative Care Settings