A new report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed that one in every six children in Nigeria is depressed. The report, which was the outcome of a new survey conducted by UNICEF in conjunction with Gallup and entitled: “The Changing Childhood Project,” decried the future of Nigerian children, the state of their mental health that should enhance their chances and ability to compete favourably for global opportunities.
According to the report, “Nigerian children and young adults are increasingly under the most pressure to succeed globally even with limited opportunities and support from the government.” The report, which was released to commemorate the 2021 World Children’s Day, marked annually on November 20, cut across 21 countries. Data from the survey revealed that young people in Nigeria are increasingly facing mental health challenge, with one in six young Nigerians aged 15 -24 feeling depressed with little interest in doing things. They are often, worried, nervous or anxious.
The report also showed that young Nigerians are more concerned than young people in any other country surveyed in many areas of life. In the area of finances, young Nigerians showed a high level of concern, with 74 per cent of females and 66 per cent of males worried that they do not have enough money for food.
Speaking in the same vein, the UNICEF Nigeria Representative, Peter Hawkins, observed that children and young people in the country have a high level of concern about many and varied issues, compared to their peers in other countries. He recommended some measures to manage the situation, including soliciting the young people’s views, listening closely to them and allowing their concerns and ideas influence policy decisions.
The damning report is not entirely surprising, in view of the challenges facing Nigerian children in recent times. With increasing insecurity, the ravages of COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, child labour and mounting unemployment, Nigerian children are bound to have mental illnesses, including depression. In other words, the stressful environment under which they operate can predispose them to depression, which is rising in the country.
Depression, according to medical experts, is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects feelings, thought processes and actions. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease ability to function at work and at home. Its symptoms include feeling sad or having a depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting. It also manifests in trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, loss of energy or increased fatigue. Other symptoms of depression are increase in purposeless physical activity or slowed movements or speech, feeling worthless or guilty, difficulty in thinking, concentrating or making decisions. In extreme cases, it can evoke thoughts of death or suicide. The Nigerian youths are daily confronted with rising violence, unemployment, poverty and all sorts of deprivations. They have equally become victims of unrealised expectations as a result of the economic hardship in the country.
Some of them, especially the girls, are subjected to sexual violence, including rape. While the boys are victims of child labour, the girls are exposed to early marriage and in some cases human trafficking. In fact, life for the average Nigerian child is seemingly hopeless and not encouraging. Faced with the uncertainties of living, many take to drugs as an escape route from the present reality. That is why many of them suffer from depression.
Therefore, the UNICEF report is a reminder of the clear and present danger in the country. Government should take the issues concerning the youths seriously considering their vintage position as future leaders. Any system that toys with the welfare of its youths compromises its future. We enjoin the government to give priority attention to children’s mental health. Since depression is treatable, we urge care givers to ensure that those affected are given access to medical attention. Moreover, it is the duty of the government to deal with the triggers of depression and other mental health issues affecting children.
It is time to address all issues that hamper the physical and mental development of Nigerian children. For the protection of Nigerian children, government must ensure that the Child Rights Act of 2003 is fully implemented. Let the states that are yet to domesticate the Act do so expeditiously. All those that violate the rights of children must be prosecuted and given adequate punishment. It will be good if relevant non-governmental organisations (NGOS) are committed to issues concerning the mental health of Nigerian children. Public enlightenment campaigns on the rights of the children should be intensified in the 774 local government areas. We believe that these measures will go a long way in enhancing their mental health.