Focus on children’s mental health, WHO urges African leaders

The World Health Organisation has called on African countries especially those with insurgency crises to focus more attention on the mental health of children and adolescents.

This plea was made on Wednesday at the commemoration of the World Mental Health Day.

On October 10 every year, the world observes the day to draw attention to the importance of mental health.

The focus of this year’s mental health day is on children and adolescents especially within the war-torn areas. The theme for this year is “Young people and mental health in a changing world.”

WHO in a press statement released on Tuesday called for regular checks for symptoms of mental illnesses beginning at a young age.

It urged African leaders to develop and strengthen evidence-based programmes for young people, with the support of national policymakers and programme managers.

WHO, in its recommendations, called for the integration of mental health into primary healthcare.

It also urged continuous training for primary healthcare workers to enable them detect and manage common mental health problems in community settings.

According to the international agency, 10 to 20 per cent of children and adolescents worldwide suffer from mental disorders.

Children and adolescents in humanitarian settings are particularly vulnerable to mental distress and illness, WHO said.

“Children and adolescents with mental disorders often face stigma and limited access to health care and education, in violation of their human rights and such needs to change,” the agency said.

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Depression was identified as the third leading cause of mental illnesses and disability among adolescents globally, while suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.

“In the African region, it is estimated that 5 per cent of the population aged below 15 years, suffer from a mental disorder.

Half of all mental illness begin by the age of 14 years, but most cases go undetected and untreated, with serious long-term consequences for mental health, it said.

They explained that the adolescence and the early years of adulthood are a time of change- moving schools, leaving home, and starting work. For many, these can be times of stress and anxiety, and these feelings can lead to serious mental illness if they are not recognised and managed in time.

Other factors identified as compounding stress in adolescents are the expanding online technologies which undoubtedly bring many benefits, but can also exert additional pressure when people feel the need to be constantly connected.

The harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents were also identified as contributing to risky behaviours such as violence, unsafe sex and dangerous driving.

Although African countries have been said to be making progress, much more can be done to build mental resilience from an early age to help prevent mental distress and illness among adolescents and young adults, and to manage recovery, the body said.

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In similar vein, the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki in commemoration of the day in Benin decried the attitude of many societies towards people having mental health problems and called for a change.

According to a press release by the office of the special adviser, media, Edo State, Mr Obaseki said the societal discrimination against people with mental health problems has further compounded efforts by governments, experts and other stakeholders at designing products for the treatment of patients and reintegrating them into the society.

The governor explained that people with mental health problems deserve love, care, understanding and support.

“As a government, we have delineated our health system for easy appreciation of the roles required by all stakeholders in the sector. We have commenced the construction of primary health centres across the state to reach all Edo people and residents irrespective of where they reside.

“The Benin Specialist Hospital will be open to offer specialist care to patients before the end of the year and we have received letters of intent from experts in the health sector, who want to partner with us to ensure that our health system can meet the needs of our people,” he added.

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