The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) warned Monday that the mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will have a far-reaching impact on children and young people for generations.
The Geneva-based federation cautioned that several studies across Europe show an alarming pattern that needs greater efforts to tackle inequity and assist those most in need.
"The mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are like invisible scars or hidden wounds," said Antonia de Barros Mota, head of Red Cross's mental health and psychosocial support work.
"Young people and children are suffering stress, bereavement, and loneliness, which can worsen as time passes. Their parents may have lost their jobs," she said.
De Barros Mota also said that lockdowns and other restrictions continue to hamper access to education, training, and work.
Refugees and migrant children are also significantly affected by the pandemic, said the federation.
As an example of how disruption caused by the pandemic has recently reached a critical point, Mota said the four university students took their own lives on a southern France campus in the last quarter of 2020.
The French Red Cross set up a 24/7 rapid intervention team to support those at risk.
During the first six months, the team dealt with 11 students, including eight who required immediate hospitalization.
"With the end of school year exams approaching, staff and volunteers are on high alert," explained Sara Salinas, coordinator of the French Red Cross emergency service, the federation said.
Refugees and children
A Turkish Red Crescent and IFRC study found a third of refugees were unable to access online school lessons.
A Spanish Red Cross study of families with young children found the majority now live in extreme poverty.
Nearly 40% are unemployed, and three-quarters cannot afford expenses such as spectacles or hearing aids for their children.
Most parents reported feeling worried or stressed, impacting their ability to support their children emotionally.
The Red Cross also cited research by the Austrian Red Cross that found sleep and eating disturbances among children had doubled.
After the second lockdown in 2020, 16% of children interviewed in North Tyrol, Austria, and South Tyrol, Italy were likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Europe has had more than 54.6 million COVID-19 cases and 1.1 million deaths, one-third of infections and fatalities worldwide, noted the Red Cross.
“Authorities and civil society organizations must scale up programs and resources to help vulnerable youth and children – including basic livelihoods assistance and tailored mental health and psychosocial support," said de Barros Mota.