International Youth Day: Focusing on Mental Health

By Nicole Goldin and Katherine Perry

IYD_2014August 12th is International Youth Day, and offers a time to reflect on the challenges and opportunities facing global youth.  This year’s theme, “Youth and Mental Health,” brings the often sidelined issue of mental health to the fore of the global health and youth development conversation. The United Nations recently estimated that a shocking 20 percent of global youth experience mental health challenges. Leaders are taking note.  In Africa for example, recognizing that mental health is a serious issue, and accounts for “a huge burden of disease and disability, and where in general less than 1 percent  of the already small health budgets are spent on these disorders,” medical experts from several countries recently published a Declaration on Mental Health in Africa in an effort to promote access to services.

Facilitating better mental health among youth is a complex challenge, as mental health is rooted in both biology and circumstance. A recent study in the United Kingdom found that the long-term unemployment crisis has had harmful effects on youths’ mental wellbeing. In a survey conducted by the Prince’s Trust, 40 percent of jobless youth “faced symptoms of mental illness…as a direct result of being unemployed.”  At the same time, the social and economic costs of underinvestment in youth mental health services are large; the United States’ National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that “70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system also have mental health disorders.”

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