Guyanese youths turning to drugs as Covid-19 bites

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– UNICEF-Min of Health study finds

A study conducted by UNICEF Guyana, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH), has revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has been negatively impacting the mental wellness of children and adults across the country with some adolescents experiencing anxiety and loneliness while others have resorted to an increase use of drugs.
In a statement on Saturday, UNICEF said the study, which included three rounds of Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) surveys, indicates that the pandemic is having a serious impact on youth mental wellness with adolescents considering stress due to COVID-19 as very serious.

“The three main concerns that contributed to stress during the current pandemic were concern about the risk of being exposed to the coronavirus (57.6%), uncertainty about the future (44.9%) and adapting to a different lifestyle (41.7%),” UNICEF explained.
Through the surveys, some adolescents indicated that they have been affected emotionally and mentally by the lifestyle changes due to the pandemic. Fifty-seven (57) percent of the respondents indicated that they were unable to sleep while 54.8% feel fearful; 51.1% worried while 48.9% are experiencing loneliness (48.9%) and 48.1 per cent are often irritable.

“Due to the changes consequent to the pandemic, 44.4% of adolescent respondents communicated that they were frequently anxious, 41.5% reported that they were crying often, 38.5% divulged that they had increased drug use, 34.8% said they withdrew from others, 34.1% said they were regularly depressed,  31.9% said they felt hopeless, 25.2% frequently considered acts of self-harm, and 20.7% reported persistent disturbing thoughts,” UNICEF further detailed.

Approximately three in ten (30%) respondents age 15-19 years have no one to share their problems with.
It was explained that the survey was conducted in July 2020 as part of UNICEF’s wider response to COVID-19 in Guyana. The KAP surveys were useful in helping UNICEF and the Health Ministry to understand the situation, monitor the behaviour change continuum and make evidence informed interventions.
“Based on inferences drawn from the findings of rounds one and two, it was felt that there was a need for a deeper understanding of the mental wellness of children, including adolescents, and adults. Hence, a third round of the KAP survey was conducted with special emphasis on mental wellness,” UNICEF explained.
Weighing in on the study, acting UNICEF Country Representative Irfan Akhtar said it is no secret that COVID-19 has been impacting the daily lives of children and their families. He noted that the risks to child mental health and well-being are considerable.
“Understanding the extent to which children are affected is critical and we need to reimagine to guide the response and better protect children during this pandemic,” Akhtar said.
Guyana’s Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony said the study will help the Ministry to better respond to the needs of Guyanese during the pandemic.
“These studies have helped us to identify people’s behaviour concerning COVID-19. It has assisted us in segmenting the population and identifying those persons who are most vulnerable, such as older persons and those with underlying comorbidities, and their perception of their risk,” said Minster Anthony.
On behalf of the Government of Guyana, he thanked UNICEF for carrying out the KAP surveys. “Based on these studies, we have been able to develop a risk communication strategy. We are confident that by taking a more scientific approach, we will be able to identify the myths and the misconceptions, and through our risk communication programme, we have started to address these issues,” the Health Minister explained.
Based on the findings, UNICEF said an in an effort to address children well-being during and after COVID-19, a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach has been recommended.
“We note the recommendations and our staff at all our health care facilities will be working to implement them. This includes providing counselling and other psychosocial support,” Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony said.


He added: “In addition, the Government of Guyana recognizes that there must be a holistic approach, a whole government approach, and ultimately a whole of society approach. These KAP studies will undoubtedly assist Guyana in assisting our citizens.”

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