On October 10th we recognized World Mental Health Day, with this year’s theme placing a focus on adolescents and young people: Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.
On a global scale a staggering proportion of adolescents and young adults are affected by mental illness. Many of these young people unfortunately remain undetected, undiagnosed and untreated. This is largely due to: the failure of recognition of the signs and symptoms of mental illness; refusal of parents and carers to accept mental health diagnoses because of social and cultural stigma in many parts of the world, and huge disparities in health care systems which remain ill-equipped to provide adolescent mental health services in many low and middle income countries (LMIC). Ongoing political, legislative, financial and policy conundrums complicate the definition of adolescence, and young people’s access to healthcare, so we recognize that multiple synchronous approaches will be required to sustainably improve adolescent mental health services.
Perhaps one of the multiple layers of recognition, diagnosis and treatment needed should involve renewed vigour in parent empowerment and education regarding normal adolescent development, and identification and recognition of mental illness in teens, particularly in LMIC settings. While some higher income settings engage children and adolescents from birth through adulthood with schedules of anticipatory guidance, parent education, surveillance and screening, these are less available or non-existent in most parts of the world. To mirror parent education regarding care of the newborn, breastfeeding and recognition of signs of infant illness including fever and irritability, perhaps equal gusto should be employed to teach parents about normal adolescent development, the expected emotional rollercoasters of the teenage years, and the indicators of potential mental illness. We at IAAH support novel, effective and sustainable efforts to improve the holistic health of the world’s young people through culturally appropriate and acceptable interventions. The changing emotional world of adolescents and their parents and carers requires a shift in paradigm and approach.