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Over a quarter of Irish children and adolescents say they do not have a high satisfaction with life

Ireland placed 26th in a ranking of mental health concerns for children and adolescents.

Image: Shutterstock/Slava Dumchev

MORE THAN A quarter of Irish children and adolescents say they do not have a high satisfaction with life, with mental health, body image issues, and physical health among some of the concerns raised in a survey carried out by UNICEF.

A report from the charity puts Ireland in 26th place in its survey of 38 OECD countries for the mental wellbeing of children, with the Netherlands, Cyprus, and Spain taking the top three spots. 

It also ranked Ireland in 17th place of the 38 countries included in its report in the category of physical wellbeing, while Japan, Luxembourg and Switzerland took the top three spots. 

The report notes that more than six in 100,000 adolescents between 15 and 19 years die by suicide every year in Ireland. 

Some 28% of Irish children surveyed for the report said they did not have a high life satisfaction, much higher than other countries such as the Netherlands which had 10%, Mexico which had 14%, and Finland which had 16%. 

Among the issues identified in the report as contributing to these low scores were body image, pressure to succeed in school, bullying, and their sense of meaning or purpose in life. 

Over a quarter, or 27%, of Irish 11 to 15-year-olds said they were too fat and 14% said they were too thin. Girls in Ireland are among the most likely in the OECD region to link life satisfaction with body image, along with peers in Scotland, Finland and the Netherlands. 

UNICEF Ireland Executive Director Peter Power noted: ”The situation for children in Ireland is improving, which shows that we have been taking the right steps.

“But change takes time and we are now facing a significant economic threat. Investing in child wellbeing brings reliable and positive outcomes in the long-term, and it is the right thing to do.

“We must study the lessons learned during the last recession, when children bore the brunt of austerity measures. The Government must continue to invest in child well-being, during this difficult economic period, or face spikes in child poverty and inequality.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was established in 1961 and includes countries such as Australia, Japan, Canada, the US, and most European countries. 

Overall the UK ranked 27th for child wellbeing while the US ranked 36th ahead of only Bulgaria and Chile. 

In most countries, less than four-fifths of children report being satisfied with their lives. Turkey has the lowest rate of life satisfaction at 53%, followed by Japan and the United Kingdom.

Around one in three children across all countries are either obese or overweight, with rates in Southern Europe also sharply increasing.  

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On average 40% of children across all OECD and EU countries do not have basic reading and mathematics skills by age 15. Children in Bulgaria, Romania and Chile are the least proficient in these skills while Estonia, Ireland and Finland are the most proficient.

In most countries, at least one in five children lack confidence in their social skills to make new friends.

Covid-19

In the first half of 2020 most of the countries covered in the report kept schools closed for more than 100 days under strict stay-at-home policies.

The report notes that the loss of family members and friends, anxiety, stay-at-home restrictions, lack of support, school closures, the balancing of work and family life, poor access to healthcare in some countries significantly affected the wellbeing of children. 

Following publication of the report, UNICEF has called for governments worldwide to double down on efforts to tackle child poverty, and address the gap in mental health services for children and adolescents. 

It also called for improved Covid-19 policies that support families with children and ensuring budgets that support child wellbeing are protected entirely from austerity measures. 

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