Issue of the Week: Human Rights, Disease, Hunger, War, Economic Opportunity, Population, Environment, Personal Growth

The State of the World’s Children 2021, UNICEF


This year is the 75th anniversary year of the founding of UNICEF.

If there’s one organization on earth that everyone knows and respects, this is it.


Well, kind of.

It used to be that way.

When getting UNICEF cards for Christmas, to help fund it, as one example, was like breathing.

But that was then. This is now.

And now has some unprecedented lack of knowledge issues attached to it. We’ve covered that issue generally and specifically a great deal.

So for the purposes of this post, we will simply introduce UNICEF again for those who need the introduction.

Its the single largest organization in the world promoting the rights, needs and protection of all children.

Here’s an excerpt from its own online introduction:

What is UNICEF?

UNICEF is the United Nations Children’s Fund, working in the world’s toughest places to reach the most disadvantaged children and adolescents – and to protect the rights of every child, everywhere.

One of the world’s largest providers of vaccines, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, safe water and sanitation, quality education and skill building, HIV prevention and treatment for mothers and babies, and the protection of children and adolescents from violence and exploitation. 

Before, during and after humanitarian emergencies, UNICEF is on the ground, bringing life-saving help and hope to children and families.

Learn more about what we do to help children survive, thrive, and fulfil their potential.

Where does UNICEF work? 

UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories and in the world’s toughest places to reach the children and young people in greatest need.  

We operate through country offices around the world, as well as 34 National Committees, seven regional offices, a research centre in Florence, a supply operation in Copenhagen, a shared services centre in Budapest, as well as other offices in Brussels, Geneva, Seoul, and Tokyo. Some 85 per cent of our staff are located in the field. UNICEF headquarters are in New York. 

What does the acronym UNICEF stand for?

On 11 December 1946, the United Nations established UNICEF to meet the emergency needs of children in post-war Europe and China. Our full name was the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. 

In 1950, the UNICEF mandate was broadened to address the long-term needs of children and women in developing countries everywhere. UNICEF became a permanent part of the United Nations system in 1953, when our name was shortened to the United Nations Children’s Fund. However, UNICEF retained its original acronym. 

How can I make a donation to UNICEF?

Thanks for your interest in supporting UNICEF. Our work depends entirely on voluntary contributions. Donate now or explore other ways to take action

Every year, UNICEF publishes the State of the World’s Children.

This years’s report came out last month.

Our post this week is the State of the World’s Children 2021.

Here’s the Highlights introduction with links to the full report and many other moving and illuminating stories and sources of critical information:

The State of the World’s Children 2021

On My Mind: Promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health.

Baby and her mother during routine check up with the pediatrician.


The COVID-19 pandemic has raised concerns about the mental health of a generation of children. But the pandemic may represent the tip of a mental health iceberg – an iceberg we have ignored for far too long. The State of the World’s Children 2021 examines child, adolescent and caregiver mental health. It focuses on risks and protective factors at critical moments in the life course and delves into the social determinants that shape mental health and well-being.

It calls for commitment, communication and action as part of a comprehensive approach to promote good mental health for every child, protect vulnerable children and care for children facing the greatest challenges.

Click here for an interactive view of data from the report.

For parents
Click here for tips and resources on how to talk to your child about mental health.

For young people
Click here for tips on reaching out, providing support and breaking the stigma around mental health.

Please contact:

Publication date


In nearly every part of the world, be it rich or poor countries, mental health conditions – and the lack of caring responses – cause significant suffering for children and young people and are a top cause of death, disease and disability, especially for older adolescents.

An estimated 13 per cent of adolescents aged 10–19 is estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder.


Uncertainty. Loneliness. Grief.

These powerful emotions have enveloped the lives of many millions of children, young people and families. Children and young people could feel the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and well-being for many years to come.

Young boys wearing masks are playing a game of carrom.
Ramjan (12), who came to the city from his village alone during the COVID-19 lockdown, is playing with his friends at the Gabtoli Child Protection Service Hub in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

As we enter the third year of the pandemic, the disruption to routines, education, recreation, as well as concern for family income and health, is leaving many young people feeling afraid, angry and concerned for their future.

“Even if you are ambitious, you will not be able to achieve your ambitions because you are psychologically totally defeated.”

– An adolescent girl in Egypt

Even before the pandemic, psychosocial distress and poor mental health afflicted far too many children. In 21 countries, roughly 1 in 5 young people aged 15-24 said they often feel depressed or have little interest in doing things, according to a UNICEF and Gallup global survey, part of the forthcoming Changing Childhood project. Those most at risk include the millions who are forced from their homes, scarred by conflict and serious adversity, and deprived of access to schooling, protection and support.

“When I think about everyone that has died because of the disease it makes me sad, and when I learn the number of cases is increasing, it makes me stressed.”

– An adolescent boy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that children’s and adolescents’ mental health is profoundly affected by their surroundings and circumstances – their experiences with parents and caregivers, their friendships and how they play, learn and grow.

Go in depth with UNICEF’s report, Life in Lockdown: Child and adolescent mental health and well-being in the time of COVID-19

The high cost of low investment

Despite all this, governments and societies are investing far too little in promoting, protecting and caring for the mental health of children, young people and their caregivers.

We pay a high economic price for this neglect – around US$387.2 billion worth of lost human potential that could go towards national economies each year. The cost in terms of how it affects real lives, however, is incalculable.

Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-olds. Every year, almost 46,000 children between the ages of 10 and 19 end their own lives – about 1 every 11 minutes.

Globally about 2 per cent of government health budgets are allocated to mental health spending, less than US$1 per person in some of the poorest countries. These figures fall far short of treating mental health conditions, especially of those facing the greatest mental health challenges, and promoting positive mental health.

Unheard calls for help

Young mental health advocates have not been standing by in silence. Many have been bravely calling for mental health to be addressed in different contexts around the world. In the State of the World’s Children 2021, some have spoken out about their lived experiences with mental health and well-being, the challenges their friends and peers face, and the need for children and adolescents to be able to reach out to get help.

“I was being bullied by my friends … Once I felt hurt and I got disappointed, it really made me feel indifferent towards them.”

– An adolescent girl in Indonesia

They are not alone. The UNICEF and Gallup survey shows that a majority of people in most countries believe that no one should have to deal with mental health challenges on their own and that the best solution is to share experiences and seek support.

And yet, for many millions around the world, there is no one to talk to, nowhere to turn for help.


Understanding mental health: Breaking barriers

Our inability to address mental health can be measured by how little societies are willing to talk about or understand it. The fear of harsh words, laughter and abuse that underline the stigma around mental health make it harder for children, adolescents and caregivers to express their feelings.

“With stress and mental illness, for many it’s a very anxious subject. And you don’t really want to talk about it.”

– An adolescent girl in Sweden

High on a long list of misgivings around mental health is the failure to understand that – just like physical health – mental health is positive. Instead of focusing on conditions to be diagnosed and medicated, mental health needs to be understood as a continuum – at any stage of our lives, we may experience varying degrees of it. We may enjoy life but also have periods of distress. And some may suffer long-term and disabling mental health conditions.

A boy sits melancholic in a holding room.
Martin [NAME CHANGED], 13, touches a window in the special protection room of a holding centre for women and children in South Sudan. They are waiting for their cases to come up for court. His Barcelona football t-shirt has huge tears and his shorts are tied around with a piece of string.

There are, however, common and universal aspects to the experience of mental health: As the 2018 Lancet Commission on global mental health and sustainable development noted, “emotional pain is as fundamental to human experience as physical pain.”

Stories from around the world

In pursuit of adolescent-friendly mental health

Addressing social taboos and mental health for adolescent development in Bangladesh

Read the story

A proactive approach to preventing suicide

Kazakhstan is making mental health – especially for children and young people – a primary national concern

Read the story

Community-based mental health care in Peru

A community-based model helps a child experience positive change

Read the story

Building a better world, one click at a time

A youth initiative in the Philippines helps young people with critical issues like mental health and gives them hope

Read the story

It’s time for leadership

UNICEF calls for commitment, communication and action to promote good mental health for every child, protect vulnerable children and care for children facing the greatest challenges.

Commitment means strengthening leadership to set the sights of a diverse range of partners and stakeholders on clear goals and ensuring investment in solutions and people across a range of sectors.

Communication means breaking the silence surrounding mental health, addressing stigmas, improving mental health literacy, and ensuring children, young people and people with lived experience have a voice.

Action means working to minimize risk factors and maximize protective factors for mental health in key areas of children’s lives, as well as investment and workforce development to:

  • Support families, parents and caregivers
  • Ensure schools support mental health
  • Strengthen and equip multiple systems and workforces to meet complex challenges
  • Improve data, research and evidence

What UNICEF is doing

UNICEF works to help safeguard the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of children, adolescents, parents and caregivers in some of the world’s most challenging settings. We have also worked to address the global impact of the pandemic on mental health.

A teacher talks to a boy in a classroom
Rawan Nabulsi, 21, who had to leave her home in Syria at age 15, helps children coping with the hard time, trauma and negative feelings she went through when she was their age. Her career took an unexpected turn inspired by her involvement in UNICEF activities to support uprooted children.

In 2020, we reached 47.2 million children, adolescents and caregivers with community-based mental health and psychosocial support, including targeted community awareness campaigns in 116 countries –almost twice as many countries as in 2019.

The scope of our work in mental health will only grow in the coming years, as will our efforts to secure investment for mental health and to tackle neglect, abuse and childhood trauma that undermine the mental health of too many children.