The COVID-19 pandemic will leave deep marks on the mental health of children and adolescents around the world. This is the warning of the report on mental health released on October 4 by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
Carried out in 21 countries, the study estimated that one out of every seven children and adolescents lives with a mental disorder. Issues such as closed schools, mobility restrictions, and social isolation contributed to the elevation of existing anxieties, previously perceived in social interaction. The survey, also carried out in Brazil, found that 22 percent of people ages 15–24 said they felt uninterested in developing activities, in addition to considering themselves depressed.
However, one of the study's suggestions is that it is possible to minimize risk factors and increase the protection of mental health for children and adolescents. One of the steps is to count on the help of the family to provide a balanced education. Thus, it is also essential that educational institutions have strategies that address the emotional health of students. Additionally, counting on the involvement of authorities in investing more resources to promote research on the subject is important.
To contribute to the reduction of such rates, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) establishes partnerships with city halls, states, and entities to carry out projects throughout Brazil. The objective is to help improve the living conditions of those who live in vulnerable situations.
According to psychologist Nayla Jeske, developing programs such as those devised by ADRA promotes the mental health of children and adolescents. “They aim at transposing adverse experiences, developing the ability to deal with problems—traumas, losses, frustrations—transforming them into people capable of facing crises and moving forward”, she highlights.
In Gravataí, Rio Grande do Sul, ADRA maintains the Garotas Brilhantes (“Bright Girls”) Project. The action is aimed at youth from 11–17 years old who live in a vulnerable situation due to several factors. The initiative offers educational lectures for those who start their sexual life in adolescence and do not have the necessary information to take care of their own health.
Applied at Carlos Bina State School, located in a region with a high rate of crime, teenage pregnancy, and suicides, it has workshops applied through dynamics and conversation circles on issues such as self-esteem, self-care, personal self-development and self-worth, suicide, self-mutilation, teenage pregnancy, sexuality, abusive relationships, alcoholism, drugs, sexual and psychological abuse, and violence.
In addition, values that encompass a life project and entrepreneurship are worked out. The activities are carried out by psychologists, educational psychologists, assistants, and social educators.
Flavia Cardoso, social worker and project coordinator, explains that presenting the possibility of change is transformative. “Knowing which girls will change the trajectory of their history with more awareness of choices, with purposes and autonomy, is what moves us. I understand that a better-prepared girl can change her life, family, and community, and this fills us with hope”, she reinforces.
Initiatives in the School Community
Márcia Soares, the school's director, guarantees the activities, which started in July this year, have come to enrich the institution's educational activities. “Our girls need guidance, direction, and motivation, and the project provides it all. Seeing these girls' eyes full of dreams and possibilities is wonderful”, she adds.
The 15-year-old KL teenager has already gone through difficult times. She attempted suicide and had to be hospitalized. Supported by her parents, she began attending Bright Girls and has awakened new realities in her life. "I'm loving it! Every Thursday manages to surpass the other and be even better. I'm learning to look at myself differently and to chase my dreams”, she reveals.
All over Brazil
In addition to Rio Grande do Sul, in the states of Espírito Santo, Amazonas, Rio de Janeiro, Rondônia, Bahia, São Paulo, Santa Catarina, and the Federal District, ADRA operates in this area of prevention and direct assistance to children and adolescents in vulnerable situations.
In Salvador, Bahia, the Child Development Incentive Center (known as “Projeto Cidinho”) has been accompanying vulnerable children who have found a new alternative for life through education. The actions take place in the counter shift, with reinforcement classes, digital inclusion, introduction to music, and the implementation of a library.
In Espírito Santo, ADRA works in partnership with the municipalities of Cariacica, Viana, Vila Velha, and Vitória in coordinating childcare homes. They are children and adolescents from 0–18 years old, victims of abandonment, violence, and mistreatment, referred by the Judiciary and/or Guardianship Council, on a provisional basis, until the return of the host to the family of origin is made possible. If this is not possible, they are forwarded to the foster family.
In Minas Gerais, the Houses of Hope Project seeks to remove minors from the streets, protecting them from violence. With 11 shelters functioning since December 2013, the places receive children and teenagers from 0–18 years old in Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state. These were removed from the family by court order when they were at risk or living in conditions that could harm their physical, emotional, or social development. These main situations include drug use and emotional, socioeconomic, and cultural deprivation, in addition to violent environments.
In every state in Brazil, ADRA has initiatives for mental health and well-being for children and adolescents. To find out how to collaborate, visit adra.org.br.