The number of refugee children who say they need mental health support more than triples because of COVID-19

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

28th April, 2021, Seventy percent of displaced and refugee children say they need psychosocial support which is more than three times the estimated 22% prior to COVID-19. That is according to a report published today byinternational aid agencies, World Vision International and War Child Holland. 

‘The Silent Pandemic assesses the impact that lockdown and COVID-19 has had on the mental health of all children affected by conflict; those still currently living in conflict zones and those who have been forced to flee. It found that 57% of children living in host communities in fragile and conflict-affected countries expressed a need for mental health and psychosocial support as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. This rises to 70% for just refugee and displaced children.

“We know that COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health issues faced by many people around the world,’ says Dana Buzducea, World Vision International’s Global Lead for Advocacy and External Engagement. ‘But for children who are already living with the fear, trauma and chronic stress of life-altering and life-threatening conflicts, its impact has been extremely damaging. At a time when these children need more mental health support than ever, little can be found. Existing services – already limited in conflict-affected areas and refugee camps – cannot 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 further anxieties to their already stressful lives. These include 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. Given they already had limited access to mental health and psychosocial support services before the pandemic, picture the urgency.‘’ 

The children and young people surveyed largely relate increased stress to not attending school, having less access to services, activities, health centres, playgrounds, food and water. They also especially miss sports, play, family (especially parents), activities to promote peace and the opening of schools. The study also shows that while 86% of younger children (7-14 years) and 81% 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.  

“Children who have experienced conflict, violence and severely traumatising events urgently need unhindered access to mental health and psychosocial support services. However, only 2-4% of national health budgets in the countries where these children are living, is spent on mental health[1] – what’s more, these funds are limited or non-existent for children who live in fragile and conflict affected parts of the countries. There is a dire lack of funding that must be addressed,” Buzducea adds.  

Currently, funding for mental health and psychosocial support makes up just 1% of all humanitarianhealthfunding. World Vision and War Child is calling on the international community to provide USD$1.4 billion, which is needed to provide urgent mental health support for the estimated 456 million children affected.

The world has stood by and allowed conflict to steal the childhood of millions of girls and boys. The global pandemic has now led to increased suffering for these vulnerable children. Without the necessary attention, urgency and funding, we are likely to face a global children’s mental health crisis. We have a moral responsibility to act now, before it is too late.” said Buzducea  



Notes to editor

*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 

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