Mental Health Matters: Youth and Mental Health

Why do we need to talk more about youth and mental health?

A fifth of the world’s population, 1.2 billion, is comprised of youth aged 15-24. It is estimated that 20% of these youth experience a mental health condition each year and of those, only 20% receive treatment. This means roughly 223 million of the world’s youth are without access to adequate service provision.

Only recently have mental health issues attracted global attention, as physical health has generally been the focus, especially in low resource settings. There has been a significant increase in research for youth mental health and it is now understood that psychosocial conditions during youth are a leading cause of disability and lost productivity across life.

Youth with mental health conditions can often experience overwhelming barriers, such as stigma, shame and discrimination, which can lead to marginalization and a lack of basic care. In turn, this can negatively impact society as a whole - poverty, violence and social exclusion.

What is being done to improve the treatment of youth with mental health conditions?

There are many innovative projects underway, both nationally and internationally, to address the barriers faced by young people with mental health issues, including tacking stigma and promoting social inclusion. In honor of International Youth Day, here is a brief introduction to four such innovations that are targeting youth around the globe: 

In 1997, the Australian start-up, the Inspire Foundation created an online youth mental health service aimed to help ‘hundreds of thousands of people under 25 tackle everything from finding motivation to getting through really tough times’. ReachOut has spread to Ireland and the US, where they aim to prevent and intervene early in high prevalence mental health disorders among young people aged 14-25, using a safe and anonymous online technical platform. was accessed by over 1.4 million unique visitors in 2011/2012, with a key impact survey finding that 60% had not previously accessed professional help.


Youth recreational activities, courtesy Equilibrium

In Brazil, approximately 28 million young people are victims of early emotional stress due to a variety of social factors, such as exposure to domestic violence and other issues with their home environments. The Equilibrium Program was created to promote the social and family reintegration of high-risk youth through an interdisciplinary intervention program that features a healthier recreational environment, access to health and welfare services and promotion of active community integration. Between 2007 and 2013, nearly 550 young people were assisted.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

E-Health Afghanistan

It is estimated that 50% of those aged 15 and over in Afghanistan experience some kind of mental health problem, with the prevalence peaking in the 18-25 year old bracket. This project developed integrated e-health interventions to reduce stigma for young adults, improve the mental health skills of healthcare providers and introduce e-health facilitated service delivery for rural and remote communities. As the project is still underway it does not currently have results to share, but it is expected that 100 community health workers will be trained in mental health triage while over 800 young people will take part in a mental health awareness campaign.

Psychosocial Care for Youth in Conflict Areas

Children who experience violence are at increased risk of developing psychosocial and mental health problems. However, most children in these settings do not receive the care they need. The Psychosocial Care for Youth in Conflict Areas program, developed by HealthNet TPO, delivers a multi-tiered psychosocial care package combining mental health promotion, prevention and treatment to address the needs of youth at risk.  The program has resulted in improved case detection, by making care accessible to over 96,000 youth across Burundi, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

Why is youth mental health in the spotlight currently? 


Poetry submission from the 'My Mental Health Matters' Campaign

International Youth Day (IYD) has been commemorated on August 12th for the last 15 years, to bring youth issues to the attention of the international community and to recognize the vital contribution of youth to society. This year the focus is on raising awareness of youth mental health, as well as to highlight the experiences of brave, young individuals who have chosen to speak out using poetry and art.                                                                                                                                                                                                                A UN report has also been released to mark IYD2014- 'Mental Health Matters: Social Inclusion of Youth with Mental Health Conditions'. The report draws on available research to raise awareness of youth mental health conditions intended to start a global conversation regarding strategies for addressing the challenges faced by young people.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

How do we keep the conversation about youth mental health going?

The first step is to engage with the events taking place to mark IYD2014 around the world, which aim to encourage governments and the general public to understand the needs of young people and to develop policies to aid them in overcoming the challenges they face.


UN Youth has created an interactive map of events taking place for IYD2014 

For more information, check out @UN4Youth and A recording of the International Youth Day event at the UN Headquarters can be watched from 10.30am EST/3.30pm BST on August 12th at                                                                                                                                                                                               To join the ongoing conversation about why mental health is such an important topic for the youth of the world, use the twitter hashtag #MentalHealthMatters.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Mental health matters, and it is up to the international community, including MHIN, to ensure that young people have services available to prevent, diagnose and treat mental health conditions freely and safely. In the words of UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova:

The mental health of young women and men is important for the health of society as a whole. They are a wellspring of ideas for innovation and leaders for positive change. We need to support them in every way in order to build with them inclusive, just and healthy societies’. 

Main image used courtesy of UN Youth Mental Health Matters campaign, more information available here

Children and adolescents
Empowerment and service user involvement
Child behavioural and developmental disorders
All disorders
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