This year, for World Mental Health Day, the World Health Organisation are drawing our attention to young people and mental health. Approximately 1.2 billion people (1 in 6) of the world’s population are adolescents, aged between 10 and 19. Several factors such as alcohol or tobacco use, lack of physical activity, unprotected sex and/or exposure to violence can jeopardize not only adolescents’ current health, but also their health as adults, and the health of their future children.
Promoting healthy behaviours during adolescence, and taking steps to better protect young people from health risks are critical for the prevention of health problems in adulthood, and for countries’ future health and ability to develop and thrive (WHO, 2018).
Adolescence and early adulthood is a time of life when many changes occur, including changing schools, leaving home, and starting university or a new job. Although this may be an exciting time for many, it can also be a time of stress and apprehension. Sometimes, these feelings can lead to various forms of mental illness.
Research shows that half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. Depression has become a huge burden for many adolescents and suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 – 29 year olds. Worldwide 10-20% of children and adolescents experience mental disorders; half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters by the mid-20s.
Neuropsychiatric conditions are the leading cause of disability in young people in all regions. If untreated, these conditions severely influence children’s development, their educational attainments and their potential to live fulfilling and productive lives.
Children with mental disorders face major challenges with stigma, isolation and discrimination, as well as lack of access to health care and education facilities, in violation of their fundamental human rights.
Harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents is a major issue in many countries and can lead to risky behaviours such as unsafe sex or dangerous driving.
Recognition of the importance of building mental resilience
A growing body of evidence now indicates that promoting and protecting adolescent health brings benefits not just to adolescents’ health, both in the short- and the long-term, but also to economies and society, with healthy young adults able to make greater contributions to the workforce, their families and communities and society as a whole.
Prevention begins with better understanding
Much can be done to help build mental resilience from an early age. Being aware of and understanding the early warning signs and symptoms of mental illness is crucial. Parents and teachers can help build life skills of children and adolescents to help them cope with everyday challenges at home and at school. Psychosocial support provided in schools and other community settings and the training for health workers to are some of the ways that will enable them to detect and manage mental health disorders.