28 September 2020 – New guidelines from WHO recommend a set of psychosocial interventions to promote mental health and prevent mental health conditions among adolescents, aged 10-19 years.
The recommendations are based on the results of intervention studies – both universal, delivered to all adolescents; and for selected individuals perceived to be at risk of mental health conditions. They will help inform the development of policies and programmes for the improved mental health of young people.
Particular attention is given to: adolescents at increased risk of mental disorders or self-harm due to exposure to adversity; adolescents going through challenging life circumstances such as adolescent pregnancy; and those with early signs or symptoms of emotional or behavioural problems.
The interventions recommended can be delivered in school and community settings and through digital platforms.
Mental health is a major issue for adolescents: up to half of all mental health conditions start before the age of 14. Poor mental health is the leading cause of disability in young people, and accounts for a large proportion of the global disease burden during adolescence. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds.
And it has long-term impacts. Poor mental health in adolescence is one of a number of factors influencing risk-taking behaviour, including self-harm; use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs; risky sexual behaviours; and exposure to violence. The effects of all these persist and can have serious implications throughout life.
Young people are facing increasingly complex social, cultural and economic environments, with challenges resulting from changing family environments, employment instability and unemployment in their households, and in some countries forced displacement.
Young people from minority and migrant communities are affected disproportionately by mental health conditions. Adolescent girls are twice as likely as adolescent boys to be affected by common mental disorders. Sociocultural factors, such as lower education levels, poverty, exposure to domestic violence and abuse and low decision-making power tend to increase the risk of depression in girls and women.
WHO and UNICEF are developing a toolkit to facilitate the implementation of the new guidelines. The kit will include strategies for both supportive policies and laws and implementation of interventions in different settings.
These guidelines address interventions for the promotion of mental health and prevention of mental health conditions in adolescents. They do not address the treatment, pharmacological or otherwise, of diagnosed mental health conditions.