Education Cannot Wait Executive Director Yasmine Sherif Statement on World Mental Health Day
NEW YORK, Oct. 10, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Millions of school-aged children, adolescents and their teachers in countries of brutal conflicts, devastating climate disasters and refuge are calling out for our action today. Their mental health cannot wait. They need support now to restore the foundation for learning.
As we unite behind universal human rights this World Mental Health Day, let it not be just another day of commemoration without action.
Today, 224 million children and adolescents – and their teachers – live through experiences that create chronic anxiety, depression and various degrees of trauma affecting their mental health. They see and live through the most excruciating pain imaginable. The soul-shattering pain of executions of family members, sudden loss of parents and siblings, all while their homes and schools are bombed and burnt down. They live with a daily fear of sexual violence, gender-based violence, trafficking, unwanted pregnancies, child marriage and forcible recruitment into armed groups. Their mental health is inevitably affected. Yes, this is a normal reaction to an abnormal challenge. However, it is not a normal life for a young person.
Conflicts, climate disasters and flight severely impact their brain development and their ability to focus, learn and develop their potentials. In the absence of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), their education risks being lost, hence the loss of their very last hope.
Only a very few survive and thrive without professional support. This is why Education Cannot Wait has made MHPSS a top priority. All our investments integrate mental health and psychosocial services across all age-groups – from early childhood development through secondary school. Their teachers are part of the support too.
As we unite behind universal human rights this World Mental Health Day, let it not be just another day of commemoration without action. Let us instead heed their calls and take action. We can make a difference by funding education in emergencies and protracted crises and joining the Education Cannot Wait community. We can do so with full confidence that MHPSS will be an integral part of a holistic and inclusive quality education.
By ensuring girls and boys can access mental health and psychosocial services, by providing teachers the training they need to work on the frontlines of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, and by providing protection for children that have lived through these life-changing ordeals, we provide a whole-of-child solution for quality education.
It’s not just our way of addressing the world’s mental health crisis, it’s part and parcel of addressing the education crisis.
We all know that students’ ability to learn is affected by their mental health. Equally important, teachers’ ability to teach is impacted by their own mental health.
All ECW Multi-Year Resilience Programmes incorporates MHPSS interventions. Today, we have reached nearly 9 million children and adolescents with such support. In 2022 alone, ECW supported the training of approximately 33,000 teachers to address the mental health needs of learners in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Iraq and Sudan, and dedicated psychosocial focal points, school counsellors, or social workers have been stationed within or close to 3,100 learning spaces since ECW’s inception.
Our strategic partners are leading the way. In August 2022, War Child Sweden convened stakeholders, including Nordic country donors, to increase funding for mental health and psychosocial support services. Following the conference, ECW joined donors, government representatives and key organizations – including the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society’s Psychosocial Support Centre – in endorsing the 2022 Copenhagen Declaration on MHPSS in Fragile and Humanitarian Settings. The declaration calls for increased investment and intentional focus on quality MHPSS in crisis settings.
ECW remains steadfast in its engagement with the Nordic Network and has committed to support the next conference, planned for March 2024 in Sweden. We must meet the child, the adolescent and the teacher where they are and address all of their needs to ensure a quality education. Their mental health can either break or make them. If mental health is addressed in time, they will become very powerful and resilient learners. Let us lay the foundation for learning, growing and becoming by connecting the dots between mental health and education. Let’s realize that potential and power of overcoming conflicts and disasters for the 224 million crisis-impacted children and adolescents – and their teachers – across the world.