Every year on 10 October, the world observes World Mental Health Day to draw attention to the importance of mental health. The theme this year is “Young people and mental health in a changing world”.
Adolescence and the early years of adulthood are a time of change – moving schools, leaving home, and starting work. For many, these can be times of stress and anxiety, and these feelings can lead to serious mental illness if they are not recognized and managed in time.
Worldwide, 10–20% of children and adolescents suffer from mental disorders. Depression is the third leading cause of mental illness and disability among adolescents globally, while suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. In the African Region, it is estimated that 5% of the population aged below 15 years, suffers from a mental disorder. Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14 years, but most cases go undetected and untreated, with serious long-term consequences for mental health.
In today’s changing world, expanding online technologies undoubtedly bring many benefits, but can also exert additional pressure when people feel the need to be constantly connected. Children and adolescents in humanitarian settings are particularly vulnerable to mental distress and illness. The harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents contributes to risky behaviours such as violence, unsafe sex and dangerous driving. Children and adolescents with mental disorders often face stigma and limited access to health care and education, in violation of their human rights.
Although African countries are making progress, much more can be done to build mental resilience from an early age to help prevent mental distress and illness among adolescents and young adults, and to manage recovery. Mental health is fundamental to overall health and for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
WHO has developed tools to support parents, caregivers and teachers to build life skills of children and adolescents, to help them cope with everyday challenges. We recommend continuous training for primary health-care workers to enable them detect and manage common mental health problems in community settings. Integration of mental health into primary health care is a priority for WHO.
As we celebrate World Mental Health Day, I call upon governments to develop and strengthen evidence-based programmes for young people, with the support of national policy-makers and programme managers. We invite governments, interested partners and civil society to continue collaborating with WHO to improve the response to adolescents’ health needs.
Together, we can support the mental well-being of all people, because there is no health without mental health.