Number of refugee children who say they need mental health support more than triples because of COVID-19, warns new report

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  • 70% of displaced and refugee children say they need psychosocial support, more than three times the estimated 22% prior to COVID-19.
  • 1% of all humanitarian  health funding goes to mental health and psychosocial support.
  • An estimated 456 million children are affected.
10-year-old Achol and her classmates have had to adapt significantly because of the pandemic. A recent study from World Vision, in partnership with War Child, looked at the impact of COVID-19 on the mental and psychosocial wellbeing of children living in six conflict affected countries including her home country of South Sudan. Photo: Scovia Faida Charles
(April 28, 2021)
Seventy per cent of displaced and refugee children say they need psychosocial support, more than three times the estimated 22 per cent prior to COVID-19, according to a new report from aid agencies World Vision and War Child. 

‘The Silent Pandemic’ report assesses the impact that COVID-19 and lockdown measures have had on the mental health of children affected by violent conflict. The report found that over half (57%) of children living in these circumstances expressed a need for mental health and psychosocial support as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. This rises to 70 per cent for refugee and displaced children. 

“We know that COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the mental health of children and youth in Canada,” says Mirette Bahgat, World Vision Canada’s Child Protection Technical Specialist. “Now imagine the damaging impact of the pandemic on children who are already living with the fear, trauma and chronic stress of life-altering and life-threatening conflict. These children need more mental health support than ever, but existing and limited services in refugee camps and host communities simply can’t keep up with demand.”  

The research, conducted with almost 500 children* and young people across six fragile and conflict-affected countries**, reveals that COVID-19 compounds children’s pre-existing psychological distress by adding to anxieties such as contracting COVID-19, losing relatives and coping with closure of schools and educational facilities.   

“Children’s mental health and well-being is seriously deteriorating during this pandemic. It is time to act,’’ says Unni Krishnan, War Child Holland’s Humanitarian Director. “If not supported, a whole generation of vulnerable children could face potentially catastrophic and long-lasting impacts to their mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.” 

The children and young people surveyed largely relate increased stress to not attending school and having less access to services, activities, health centres, playgrounds, food and water. They also especially miss sports, playing, and spending time with their peers, family support), and going to school. The study also shows that while 86 per cent of younger children (7-14 years) and 81 per cent of teens (aged 15-17), can and do seek emotional support from a friend or family member, the older youths (19-24 years) struggle to deal with their distress, with only half as many (41.8%) having someone they can go to for support.  
Currently, funding for mental health and psychosocial support makes up just 1 per cent of all humanitarian health funding. World Vision and War Child are calling on the international community to provide USD$1.4 billion in funding to provide urgent mental health support for the estimated 456 million children affected. Without the necessary attention, urgency and funding, the agencies are warning that the world will face a global children’s mental health crisis. 

*World Vision and War Child Holland spoke to 220 children, 245 adolescents and young people, 287 parents and carers and 44 child protection experts and community leaders 
**Research countries: Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Jordan, Lebanon, the occupied Palestinian territory and South Sudan