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UN Children’s Fund - UNICEF
Mental Health of Young People
Mental health and mental illness have been hidden for many years behind a stigma that has only recently begun to fade. With nearly 1 billion people suffering from some form of mental illness, it is evident that mental health and mental disorders are now one of the leading causes of disability and death on a global scale. It is projected that, by 2030, mental health problems (particularly depression) will be the leading cause of mortality and morbidity globally. Individuals, their families, and communities, as well as governments and nations, are all affected by mental disorders. Due to the aforementioned stigma, one adult in eight (12.1%) receives mental health treatment, with 10.4% receiving medication and 3% receiving psychological therapy.
Despite advances in treatments and medical knowledge, this issue has become more difficult to address over time. The private sector frequently offers effective treatment in the form of rehab centers and programs, prescription drugs, psychiatrists, and psychologists. However, low-income families cannot afford these treatments, and government-provided treatment is frequently insufficient as it tends to create massive mental institutions that do not adequately treat individuals. Due to the fact that each mental disorder is unique, placing patients in the same cohort is frequently detrimental, as it harms their health and isolates them from their families and society.
Through education-based prevention, mental health promotion reduces the burden of mental disorders. Rather than treating symptoms and deficits, it seeks to enhance families' and society's capacity to approach and manage mental health. Promoting mental health and working to improve someone's well-being complements awareness of mental health and its causes, reducing a patient's vulnerability to disorders.
Prior to the 1990s, mental health was rarely discussed; as a result, patients with mental illnesses were not treated appropriately. Furthermore, there was a lack of medical and scientific research on mental health, which led to incorrect treatment of patients. Until the mid-19th century, mental illness was treated inhumanely. Sigmund Freud and B. F. Skinner's work around World War II led to scientific theories on helping mentally ill people. By the 20th century, the groundwork was laid for more scientifically supported and effective treatments.
In recent years, mental illness cases have been steadily increasing, affecting people of all ages, incomes, and backgrounds. The majority of chronic mental illnesses begin by age 24 (75%), which means that most of the young global population suffers from a mood disorder, an anxiety disorder, or a behavioral disorder. Globally, 90% of the 800,000 annual suicides involve a mental illness. According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report, anxiety and depression constitute more than 40% of mental-health disorders among young people (those aged 10–19). Worldwide, suicide is the fourth most common cause of death (after road injuries, tuberculosis, and interpersonal violence) among adolescents (aged 15–19). In eastern Europe and central Asia, suicide is the leading cause of death for young people in that age group, and it’s the second-highest cause in western Europe and North America. Naturally, this has an adverse effect on their education and, subsequently, their overall future, as mental illness tends to prevent active contribution to society, leads to difficulty with employment, and challenges their physical health and relationships.
Mental disorders can result in financial, productivity, and personal costs. According to the 2018 report on mental health by the Lancet Commission, mental disorders are on the rise in every country and will cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030. The economic cost is mainly due to the onset of mental illness at a young age and productivity loss, with an estimated 12 billion working days lost annually as a result of mental illness.
The societal costs are also high, since public health care must cover general medical care, mental health care, and the emotional costs of death and social exclusion. Of course, this does not include the cost of treatments or lost productivity. Considering the aforementioned, it is necessary to develop strategies for dealing with these issues, which span social and economic issues.
This issue is intensified by a lack of government action and legislation. 40% of countries lack a mental health policy, more than 30% lack a mental health programme, and one-quarter lack mental health legislation. 66% of countries with mental health programmes and legislation spend less than 1% of their annual budgets on mental health, and 25% lack access to the three most commonly used depression and schizophrenia medications. Without government-provided care or appropriate legislation to make treatment and medication more affordable, 50.1% of people cannot afford the medication they require.
All this indicates that action must be taken immediately. This is why the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people is one of UNICEF’s global and national priorities.