Estimated read time: Five minutes
Life experiences, either positive or negative, change how people see themselves and the world around them. For children, it also changes how they interact with their parents and guardians, their extended family, and their friends. This is true to varying degrees throughout each stage of the life course. For children, traumatic events can leave lasting negative impacts, even to the point of changing their genetic makeup and passing these changes to the next generation. The hormone released during times of heightened stress can lead to negative health consequences if not addressed properly.
With World Mental Health Day on October 10th, we must acknowledge the hundreds of millions of people struggling with mental health conditions around the world. Communities in conflict-affected areas are particularly impacted: most will experience psychological distress at some point, and more than 1 in 5 have a mental health disorder. 426 million of the world’s children currently live in areas affected by conflict, posing a substantial risk to the long-term mental and physical health of the next generation. The risk factors for mental illness have only grown due to COVID-19. Support for mental health, resilience and wellbeing in both international development and humanitarian settings is critical, and yet funding for mental health has never risen above 1% of health-related global development assistance – with support for child and adolescent mental health receiving only 0.1%.
The COVID-19 mental health crisis
Children today are experiencing increased loads of stress and anxiety whether it stems from conflicts, violence in their communities, a loss of a loved one, or a child on the move to seek a better life with their families, or as we have seen at the US Southern Border, alone. Less dramatically, although still detrimental, the efforts to mitigate COVID-19 through school closings and quarantines have also led to increased levels of stress for children and youth as an unintended consequence.
14% of children and adolescents worldwide experience mental health disorders
1 in 5 individuals in conflict-affected areas has a mental health disorder
426 million children are living in a conflict-affected area
83% of children reported an increase of negative feelings due to COVID-19
75% of people with mental health conditions in low- and middle-income countries receive no treatment
>1% of health-related global development assistance has ever gone to mental health
Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) is essential to overall health and protection outcomes and is necessary to ensure people and nations meet their full potential. For foreign assistance investments to be effective and sustainable, it is critical that U.S.-funded programming makes progress in addressing the mental health and psychosocial needs of communities. The U.S. has an opportunity and responsibility to build a cohesive approach to tackle this global challenge now in order to build a more stable future for the global community.
How does the U.S. plan to address mental health?
Through the advocacy of World Vision, our partner organizations, and champions for this issue on Capitol Hill, new and historic legislation has been introduced to bring mental health care to the world’s most vulnerable children and their families.
World Vision’s Senior Vice President for International Programs, Margaret Schuler, commented on the importance of this bill in a press release marking the introduction of the bill by saying, “The significant impact of COVID-19, natural and manmade disasters, gender-based violence and conflict around the world, means mental health and psychosocial support is desperately needed now for the world’s most vulnerable children and their families.”
The Mental Health in International Development and Humanitarian Settings Act or MINDS Act is the first piece of legislation to address mental health and psychosocial support in US foreign assistance. Introduced in the House by Representative Ted Deutch of Florida and Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, and introduced in the Senate by Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, this bill elevates the need to address this issue while solidifying in law a new position at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to oversee the implementation of these critical interventions, the Coordinator for Mental health and Psychosocial Support. In addition to codifying this position at USAID, the bill would also require the Department of State and USIAD to integrate MHPSS programming across regional bureaus and missions overseas.
“The MINDS Act is the first-ever US legislation that addresses mental health and psychosocial support in foreign assistance,” said Margaret Schuler, Senior Vice President of International Programs, World Vision U.S. “The significant impact of COVID-19, natural and manmade disasters, gender-based violence and conflict around the world, means mental health and psychosocial support is desperately needed now for the world’s most vulnerable children and their families.”
The bill supports best practices, lays the groundwork for a global mental health strategy, and emphasizes the needs of vulnerable populations – including children in adversity, those living in poverty and conflict zones, women and girls, and other marginalized communities.
The MINDS Act will aim to:
- Codify the position of USAID Coordinator for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support
- Codify the USAID MHPSS Working Group to promote inter-bureau and interagency coordination and support the integration of MHPSS in U.S. foreign assistance
- Require State and USAID to integrate MHPSS programming across regional bureaus and missions
- Require the Executive Branch to brief Congress on implementation of the bill, barriers to MHPSS programing, and overall expenditures on MHPSS programming in U.S. foreign assistance
In light of World Mental Health Day – in addition to the reality of a COVID-19 affected world – now is a critical moment to provide vulnerable children and their caregivers with the mental health and psychosocial support and care that they need. But we need your help to ensure that this important bill is passed through congress. While this bill has just been introduced, garnering cosponsors is critical to showing congressional leadership that this bill is a priority for the American people and would bring much-needed relief to those in need. Call or email your Representative in Congress today and urge them to become a cosponsor of the MINDS Act.
Congressional Leadership: Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC)
Organizations Endorsing: Save the Children, UNICEF USA, International Rescue Committee, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, The Borgen Project, RISE Institute, American Academy of Pediatrics
Top photo: Moise, age 11, with friends at a local World Vision child-friendly-space in Eastern DRC. The CFS aims to support the mental health and wellbeing of children that are displaced and dealing with the effects of COVID-19. (©2021 World Vision/photo by Geoffrey Denye)