Remarks by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell at the United Nations General Assembly High-level Event on the Promotion and Protection of the Mental Health of Learners in Schools

Remarks by UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell at the United Nations General Assembly High-level Event on the Promotion and Protection of the Mental Health of Learners in Schools

New York, September 20, 2022 Your Majesty, Excellencies, colleagues,

“I am very pleased to welcome you to the UNICEF House.

“We are honored by Queen Letizia’s presence and deeply grateful for her leadership on this urgent issue.

“I would also like to thank the World Health Organization, UNESCO and the Government of Thailand for their participation in organizing this event – and for their invaluable partnership.

“This week has truly been historic. The Transformative Education Summit has brought the world together to address the global learning crisis – to commit to doing something about it.

“This crisis is urgent. Millions of children are still out of school – and millions of children are in school but not learning basic skills.

“We fail these children. But we can change that, and we must – use every tool at our disposal to support their learning, whatever their circumstances. This includes supporting their mental health and well-being.

“World leaders and many other partners have just endorsed the commitment to work on foundational learning – and pledged to invest in the mental health and well-being of every learner.

“They need to fulfill this pledge quickly.

“Even before the pandemic, child and adolescent mental health cases were on the rise.

“UNICEF estimates that 1 in 7 children between the ages of 10 and 19 has a diagnosed mental health condition.

“But the pandemic has only made matters worse. Almost every country in the world has seen the problem exacerbate. Children who have grown up in the midst of conflict and other crises face greater challenges to their mental health and well-being – not to mention education.

“But for too long, the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents has been one of the most neglected – and least funded – challenges and many governments still spend only a few cents per capita on mental health directly – and allocations from official assistance are insufficient to meet the growing needs.

“But thanks to so many of you here today and so many others, that is starting to change. We are seeing deeper engagement on this critical issue. Mental health has become part of our daily conversation – in our media, social media feeds, boardrooms and homes.”

“Now we need to make it central to our efforts to transform education – so that every school supports the mental health and well-being of every learner and every teacher.

“Excellent people,

“With the increasing challenges children face around the world, we urgently need to adapt the systems on which they depend to survive and thrive – especially education systems.

“I have recently traveled to schools in Ukraine, schools for displaced children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, schools in Afghanistan, and many other places where children already face many challenges.

“I can tell you that these children depend on schools not only for their education, but also for their sense of security, their emotional stability, and their sense of hope for the future.

“When they get the support they need, even children who have experienced extreme difficulties can recover and start learning again.

“All children, whatever their circumstances, benefit from a learning environment that nurtures and supports their minds, health and well-being.

“At times like these, schools should be more than just places for academic learning. Schools should play a bigger role.

“Today, in partnership with UNESCO and the World Health Organization, we are sharing new recommendations, organized around five priority actions that national governments need to take to promote and protect the mental health and well-being of every learner.

“Let me briefly address these matters as the basis for our discussion.

“First, schools need to create an environment conducive to positive mental health and well-being. This means, among other things, including social and emotional learning and mental health literacy in the curriculum – and making sure that policies and programs are informed by individual students’ needs and capabilities.”

“Secondly, we need to expand early intervention, mental health and support services at school.

“We know that many mental health conditions begin in adolescence – and can last a lifetime. Educators who are trained to identify and respond to these emerging conditions can get children the help they need – whether it’s a school counselor or outside support .

“Third, we need to support the mental health and well-being of teachers and school staff as well. Teachers face enormous pressure – especially in emergencies. This means making sure that there are policies and regulations in place – and ensuring that classroom teachers are not compliant.” You must take on the role of trained mental health professionals.

“Fourth, we need to strengthen mental health and psychosocial support in the education workforce. This includes ensuring that every teacher, principal and education professional have access to learning and training opportunities to support students’ mental health and well-being.

“Fifth – and this really includes everything – schools need to engage and collaborate with families and the community. Students themselves must play a role in building safe and nurturing learning environments. Incorporating their voices, perspectives and experiences is critical.

“Excellent people,

“Supporting children so they can reach their full potential is central to UNICEF’s mission – and supporting the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents is an organizational priority.

“We are fully committed to this effort, and to working with Member States and all our partners, across every sector, to ensure that the mental health needs of all children and young people are addressed.

“I look forward to hearing from all of the speakers today – especially the young people here – about how we can drive change for millions of children and teens together.”

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