African governments and their bilateral partners should prioritize action on soaring mental illnesses affecting the continent's youth, a senior WHO official said on Wednesday during the World Mental Health Day.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, noted the continent's youthful population has borne the brunt of mental disorders hence the need for high impact interventions to tackle this health challenge.
"In the African region, it is estimated that 5 percent of the population aged below 15 years suffers from a mental disorder. Most cases go undetected and untreated, with serious long-term consequences for mental health," said Moeti.
African countries joined the rest of the world to mark this year's World Mental Health Day whose theme was "Young people and mental health in a changing world".
Moeti regretted that young people in many parts of Africa were grappling with emotional and psycho-social pressures that impacted negatively on their mental health.
According to Moeti, a stressful academic calendar, emotional abuse at home coupled with poverty was to blame for mental illnesses affecting youth and adolescents in Africa.
"Although African countries are making progress, much more can be done to build mental resilience from an early age to help prevent mental distress and illnesses among adolescents and young adults," Moeti remarked.
"Mental health is fundamental to overall health and for achieving the sustainable development goals," she added.
Globally, 10-20 percent of children and adolescents suffer from mental disorders that lead to suicide and adoption of violent behavior in this demographic.
According to WHO, modern technologies, excessive use of alcohol and hard drugs have worsened mental disorders among the youth in a rapidly urbanizing world.
In response to the growing burden of mental disorders, WHO has developed tools to help parents, care givers and teachers to build life skills among vulnerable teenagers.
"We recommend continuous training for primary healthcare workers to enable them detect and manage common mental health problems in community settings. Integration of mental health into primary healthcare is a priority for WHO," said Moeti.
She emphasized that a robust policy intervention is key to tackle the rising burden of mental disorders across Africa effectively.