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AT least 27% of young people in Zimbabwe aged 15 to 24 are suffering from depression, some of it caused by COVID-19, a research conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has revealed.

A report, titled The State of the World’s Children 2021-On My Mind-Promoting, Protecting and Caring for Children’s Mental Health, which was released on Wednesday, listed Zimbabwe as one of the leading five countries out of 21, whose young people suffer from depression.

About 20 000 people aged 15 to 24 and older people aged up to 40 years were part of the sampled population in the research conducted between February and June 2021 in Zimbabwe and 20 other countries.

Cameroon was adjudged as the country with the highest number of youths suffering from depression at 32%, followed by Germany, France and the United States at 24%.

Unicef said the COVID-19 pandemic hardships had exacerbated mental disorders among the youth and urged governments to put in place measures to promote good mental health among children.

“Children around the world have been locked out of classrooms, sequestered in their homes, and robbed of the everyday joy of playing with friends, all consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the global children’s organisation said.

“Millions more families have been pushed into poverty, unable to make ends meet. Child labour, abuse and gender-based violence are on the rise. Many children are filled with sadness, hurt or anxiety.

“Some are wondering where this world is headed and what their place is in it. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised huge concerns for the mental health of an entire generation of children. But the pandemic may represent only the tip of a mental health iceberg — an iceberg we have ignored for far too long.”

It is estimated that globally, more than 13%, which is about 166 million adolescents aged 10 to 19, live with a diagnosed mental disorder, as defined by the World Health

Unicef identified poverty as a critical social determinant of mental health that shapes the lives of children and their caregivers.

“Children’s and young people’s mental health is forged by experiences and environments. It is moulded in the world of parents and caregivers, of communities and schools, and of poverty, conflict and diseases,” it said.

“At critical moments of child development, these experiences and environments can harm mental health. Or they can be shaped to promote and protect it. Poverty can also have a profound psychological impact on children’s and adolescents’ capacity to seek opportunity and realise their dreams. The amount of exposure to poverty also matters. Indeed, the longer a child lives in poverty, the greater the risks to mental health.”

Unicef said there was an urgent need for investment in child and adolescent mental health across sectors to promote access to mental health.

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