This year’s World Mental Health Day is being observed in a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the inequalities in our world. One of the major consequences of the pandemic has been its negative impact on mental health. While the unequal nature of our societies has always been a cause for concern, it seems like COVID-19 has opened a chasm that cannot be quickly closed or ignored. Health systems have buckled under the weight of treating the physical illnesses of the disease. What about the invisible illness of COVID-19? What about the vulnerable groups like children, the elderly and the poor?
According to data, COVID-19 has disrupted mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide; with the mental health sector already underfunded in many countries, it is not hard to imagine the implications of this mental health support deficit on our future societies. A prime group for concern is our children. Research has shown the negative impact of COVID-19 on children, and governments have been warned of the impending crisis in child mental health as a result of the pandemic. In Jamaica, where there is 5% of expenditure allocation for child mental health services, given the pre-COVID-19 conditions in the society that contributed to child mental illness, and the rates of mental illness in children before the pandemic; unless drastic action is taken, the outlook for Jamaica is very bleak.
Existing inequalities in our country meant that poor children and children who lived in rural areas faced significant challenges getting online for school. Many parents and guardians lost earnings because of lockdowns measures leading to increased parental stress and frustrations. In a society where pre-COVID-19, 89% of children received harsh physical punishment; the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the situation for our children with damaging effects on their mental health.
In observance of World Mental Health Day 2021, while governments plan, we can do our part in fostering our children’s mental wellbeing. Our children need:
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