Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Adolescents and mental health

World Health Day 2017 focus on depression

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 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.

Many mental health problems emerge in late childhood and early adolescence. Recent studies have identified mental health problems - in particular depression, as the largest cause of the burden of disease among young people (DALYs).

Poor mental health can have important effects on the wider health and development of adolescents and is association with several health and social outcomes such as higher alcohol, tobacco and illicit substances use, adolescent pregnancy, school drop out and delinquent behaviours. There is growing consensus that healthy development during childhood and adolescence contributes to good mental health and can prevent mental health problems.

Enhancing social skills, problem-solving skills and self confidence can help prevent mental health problems such as conduct disorders, anxiety, depression and eating disorders as well as other risk behaviors including those that relate to sexual behavior, substance abuse, and violent behaviour. Health workers need to have the competencies to relate to young people, to detect mental health problems early, and to provide treatments which include counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy and, where appropriate, psychotropic medication.

WHO is strengthening the provision of mental health services through the implementation of the mental health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP). WHO's Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (MCA) contributes to mhGAP by advising on the provision of mental health services to adolescents.