By Carla Haddad Mardini, Director, Private Fundraising and Partnerships Division, UNICEF; Lizzie Brady, Vice President Global Consumer Marketing, Jo Malone London; Elizabeth Nieto, Vice President, Global Head of Equity and Impact, Spotify and Gary Shaughnessy, Chair of the Z Zurich Foundation
We’ve all heard the saying that “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Imagine everyone in the adult population as a unique vessel embodying a source of nourishment and each child as a delicate bloom. Just as a garden thrives when tended with care, our children flourish when provided with the support they need. If our adults are “empty cups,” our children will be significantly less likely to reach their full potential.
Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that nearly 1 billion people worldwide are living with a mental disorder — meaning that virtually everyone is impacted by mental health, either directly or indirectly. Nearly one in four children lives with a parent who has a mental disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We need to take care of our own mental health and well-being, alongside protecting our children and youth.
Today’s world leaders and influencers are in a prime position to make a difference. Beyond providing resources, they can make an impact by leading by example. Mental health issues are experienced from the top down — with CEOs and leaders in all fields affected. By taking care of ourselves, we can, in turn, take care of our children and secure a brighter future for our world.
The pandemic impact
While more studies are needed to understand the full impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO has estimated a 25 percent increase in the global prevalence of anxiety and depression following the first year of the pandemic.
The increase in mental health conditions coincided with severe disruptions of mental health services, many of which still exist today. Services for mental health, neurological issues and substance use were the most disrupted among all essential health services. Many countries also identified major disruptions in lifesaving care for mental health, such as suicide prevention.
Strides have been made in addressing service availability and accessibility challenges; however, this remains uneven. Despite progress, the prevalence of mental health issues continues to cast a substantial shadow on communities, impacting their overall well-being and economic stability. Too many people — including vulnerable youth populations — are still unable to get the care and support they need.
Mental health is an issue of global concern, yet it remains stigmatized and underfunded in almost every country. Risks are particularly acute in humanitarian settings. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and protect and improve the futures for today’s youth, we must better prioritize mental health.
Recognizing the need, UNICEF, with the support of the Z Zurich Foundation, launched the Global Coalition for Youth Mental Health in 2022. The Coalition today includes Jo Malone London, Spotify, Zurich Insurance Group and Z Zurich Foundation as strategic members.
The toll on our youth
UNICEF estimates that one in seven children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 is living with a mental disorder. Half of all mental health conditions begin before age 14, and 75 percent by the age of 25. Most cases go undetected and untreated. Staggeringly, the global median of government health expenditures on mental health is less than 2 percent.
Mental health is intrinsic to how we think, feel and act. There is an immediate need to shift the focus of both funding and resources toward improving the mental health and well-being of today’s youth to secure a stronger future for our world.
Acting early to support children and caregivers is an essential investment for both governments and donors. Investments made during childhood are significantly cheaper than the costs of inaction as today’s youth become adults. We cannot afford to ignore child, adolescent and caregiver mental health.
Meeting our goals
UNICEF works with a host of partners to help countries meet the SDGs. These goals, however, cannot be met by 2030 without addressing mental health. Promoting good mental health is a catalyst to achieving all the SDGs and fulfilling States’ international legal obligations to ensure children can access and fulfill their rights.
The 2023 calendar year marks a significant milestone for the SDGs: the mid-point of the implementation of the 2030 agenda. To commemorate this, UNICEF and its private sector partners, including Jo Malone London, Sony and Spotify, discussed progress made toward the SDGs and opportunities for the private sector to help accelerate progress on youth mental health during a side event at the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA) in September.
The Global Coalition for Youth Mental Health is advocating for greater investment in and action on youth mental health year-round, and is pooling its resources to address the mental health needs of children and young people worldwide. This includes a call to action for other organizations to join the coalition and protect the mental health of children and young people globally.
Partners innovating and leading by example
UNICEF works closely with its partners to protect and promote the mental health and well-being of our youth — from a partnership with Spotify which harnesses the power of music and audio to support youth mental health, to a collaboration with Z Zurich Foundation, which equips adolescents and caregivers with information, skills and strategies to care for their own and each other’s mental health and well-being. UNICEF is also working with Jo Malone London and Sony to shift the needle together and make tangible progress in filling the serious gaps in mental health promotion, prevention and care where it is needed most.
To learn more about the Global Coalition for Youth Mental Health, including opportunities to join, contact [email protected].