Co-authored by Prafulla Ragireddi:
World Health Organization estimates that youth aged 14-24 years account for one-fifth of the global population. Approximately 20% youth develop a mental health condition each year and prevalence of these conditions is similar in both developing and developed nations.
Mental health is given lower priority and fewer resources around the globe compared to physical health. The observation is that less than 1% of health budget is allocated to mental health. One-third countries have no budget for mental health, World Federation for Mental Health and WHO estimate that this discrepancy leads to a treatment gap of more than 75% in many low and middle-income countries.
Neglecting youth mental health could significantly impact global socio-economic conditions. Youth experiencing mental health challenges may not find stable employment forcing them out of the workforce, affecting professional revenue to support national financial growth. Mental health issues in youth could lead to dysfunctional family, professional and personal relationships. This could be disruptive, negatively impacting the overall quality of life of the affected individuals and the society around them. Repercussions could influence safe and secure living conditions of future generations and possibly damage the social fabric of an entire nation.
Previous research studies indicate that mental health disorders in youth are correlated with anti-social behaviour. Untreated mental health issues would lead to increased risk of re-offence. Around 50–75% of youth in the juvenile justice system display some form of mental health disorder. Compared to general adolescent population the rate of mental health disorders in juvenile justice population is three times higher.
Gender disparities are clearly evident in the incidence of certain common mental health issues like depression, anxiety, anti-social behaviour and alcohol dependency. However, the incidence of severe mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorders are similar in both genders.
The fifth highest cause of global mortality in youth is attributed to suicide. Risk factors that increase the incidence of mental health conditions in youth include poverty, growing up in orphanages and foster homes, PTSD, involvement with juvenile justice, history of physical or sexual abuse, homelessness and past mental health issues. Youth transitioning between childhood and adulthood when exposed to these risk factors become highly susceptible to severe form of mental health because of significant biological and psychological transformation around the same time. According to WHO, unipolar depression, which is twice as common in women is predicted to be a leading cause of disability burden by 2020.
Adolescent girls and women are especially at a higher risk of depression compared to men. Few factors that pose a threat to women’s mental health are malnutrition, low employment rate, income inequality, gender discrimination, domestic abuse and physical and sexual violence. The pressures of gender role responsibilities in most of our societies also affect women’s mental health. All these factors make women more vulnerable to mental stress affecting their overall quality of life.
Failure to recognise and address the risk factors could eventually lead to major psychological challenges in youth. Seeking appropriate professional help during the initial stages of a mental disorder could prevent its severe manifestation. Educating and generating awareness about mental health among youth could reduce the stigma attached to seeking intervention and encourage affected youth to reach out for help.
Families, communities and educational institutions should be encouraged to be a part of non-formal support system to strongly promote mental health. Adapting a stigma-free social environment paves way for successful delivery of mental health services especially among youth. Implementing evidence-based community intervention programs are economically beneficial and their impact on youth especially in reducing crime, aggressive behaviour, depression, PTSDs is promising.
Alternative health therapies like mindfulness and art therapy based programs can benefit mental health of all ages especially impacting adolescents to a greater extent. Art therapy is beneficial especially for healing trauma related mental health issues. Mindfulness has shown promising benefits in the mental health arena. Research data on mindfulness practices suggests that there is a significant decrease in symptoms of depression, anxiety, behaviour problems and aggression among youth.
Practising mindfulness increased the overall well-being, improved attention, awareness and self-esteem, improved emotional regulation as shown in some studies. The benefits of mindfulness are not just confined to mental health but beneficial to overall health like improving immunity, sleep and lowering blood pressure. Moreover, the lack of side effects makes mindfulness a safe and sustainable solution for both physical and mental health.
Extensive research in the area of youth mental health could bring about a promising global impact. Hence investing in youth mental health is the need of the hour and a crucial step towards reaching sustainable developmental goals 2030.