BANGKOK, 31 August 2022 – Thailand must urgently increase investment in quality and timely mental health care and services for children and adolescents in order to prevent serious lifelong damage to their health, development, and future, according to a new UNICEF-led study on adolescent mental health released yesterday.
An estimated 1 in 7 adolescents aged 10-19 and 1 in 14 children aged 5-9 have mental health disorders in Thailand, according to a new study Strengthening Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Systems and Services for Children and Adolescents in East Asia and Pacific Region: Thailand Country Report 2022 developed by UNICEF, the Ministry of Public Health, the Institute for Population and Social Research and Burnet Institute.
Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among adolescents in the country. According to the 2021 Global School-based Student Health Survey, 17.6 percent of adolescents aged 13–17 had recently seriously considered suicide.
“This data is really alarming, but even more worrying is that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Kyungsun Kim, UNICEF Representative for Thailand. “Millions of children and adolescents in Thailand are suffering from poor mental health including stress, anxiety, and depression due to many factors such as violence, bullying, loneliness, uncertainty as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, they are often hidden under the surface because of stigma and lack of access to appropriate information, screening, support, and services.”
Poor mental health can cause serious and long-term impacts on the health, learning, and participation of children and adolescents, limiting their ability to develop and reach their full potential.
The study notes that while Thailand has made important progress in addressing child and adolescent mental health, especially in national policy and legislation as well as specific responses in the health sector, there are still crucial gaps in addressing adolescent mental health such as inadequate budget, limited coordination among different service sectors as well as insufficient psychiatrists and skilled workforce across all sectors.
The report further notes that Thailand must develop a collective vision and multi-sectoral plan in order to address the alarming suicide rate and mental health issues faced by children and adolescents nationwide. The country must also urgently increase investments and interventions across education, social welfare, and justice sectors to ensure that children and adolescents, especially the most vulnerable are mentally healthy and receive timely and quality support, care, and services that meet their specific needs.
“If we don’t take care of our children and adolescents’ mental well-being properly, we are putting the whole society in jeopardy,” Kim added. “What we need is a comprehensive mental health support system that is a national priority in order to prevent any disastrous societal and economic losses for the nation. UNICEF is committed to working with the Ministry of Public Health and all sectors of Thailand in ensuring that the mental health support system meets the needs of children and adolescents and that it reaches them before it’s too late.”
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