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Mental health and Well-being

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What is mental health?Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. According to World Health Organization Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contributes to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in. Mental health is a basic human right as well. And it is crucial to personal, community and socio-economic development.

Mental health conditions include mental disorders and psychosocial disabilities as well as other mental states associated with significant distress, impairment in functioning or risk of self-harm. It exists on a complex range, which is experienced differently from one person to the next, with varying degrees of difficulty and distress and potentially very different social and clinical outcomes.

In 2019, 970 million people globally were living with a mental disorder, with anxiety and depression the most common. Mental health conditions can cause difficulties in all aspects of life, including relationships with family, friends and community. They can lead to problems at school and at work. People with severe mental health conditions die 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population. And having a mental health condition increases the risk of suicide and experiencing human rights violations.

Mental health of adolescents

Adolescence is a unique and formative time. Physical, emotional and social changes, including exposure to poverty, abuse, or violence can make adolescents vulnerable to mental health problems. Protecting adolescents from adversity, promoting socio-emotional learning and psychological well-being, and ensuring access to mental health care are critical for their health and well-being during adolescence and adulthood. Globally, it is estimated that 1 in 7 (14%) 10–19 year olds experience mental health conditions, yet these remain largely unrecognized and untreated.

Adolescents with mental health conditions are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion, discrimination, stigma (affecting readiness to seek help), educational difficulties, risk-taking behaviours, and physical ill-health and human rights violations.

1)     Emotional disorders

Emotional disorders are common among adolescents. Anxiety disorders (which may involve excessive worry) are the most prevalent in this age group and are more common among older than younger adolescents. It is estimated that 3.6% of 10–14 year olds and 4.6% of 15–19 year olds experience an anxiety disorder. Depression is estimated to occur among 1.1% of adolescents aged 10–14 years, and 2.8% of 15–19-year-olds. Depression and anxiety share some of the same symptoms, including rapid and unexpected changes in mood.

2)     Behavioural disorders

Behavioural disorders are more common among younger adolescents than older adolescents. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), characterized by difficulty paying attention, excessive activity and acting without regard to consequences. Conduct disorder involving symptoms of destructive or challenging behaviour. Behavioural disorders can affect adolescents’ education and conduct disorders may result in criminal behaviour.

3)     Eating disorders

Eating disorders also commonly emerge during adolescence and young adulthood. Eating disorders involve abnormal eating behaviour and preoccupation with food, accompanied in most instances by concerns about body weight and shape. This can lead to premature death, often due to medical complications or suicide, and has higher mortality than any other mental disorder.

4)     Suicide and self-harm

Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in older adolescents (15–19 years). Risk factors for suicide are multifaceted, and include harmful use of alcohol, abuse in childhood, stigma against help-seeking, barriers to accessing care and access to means of suicide. Digital media, like any other media, can play a significant role in either enhancing or weakening suicide prevention efforts.

5)     Risk-taking behaviours

Many risk-taking behaviours for health, such as substance use or sexual risk-taking, start during adolescence. Risk-taking behaviours can be an unhelpful strategy to cope with emotional difficulties and can severely impact an adolescent’s mental and physical well-being. Worldwide, the prevalence of heavy episodic drinking among adolescents’ aged 15­–19 years was 13.6% in 2016, with males most at risk. The use of tobacco and cannabis are additional concerns. Many adult smokers had their first cigarette prior to the age of 18 years. Cannabis is the most widely used drug among young people with about 4.7% of 15–16 years olds using it at least once in 2018.

Determinants of mental health

Numerous individual, social, and structural factors may come together at different times in our lives to either support or compromise our mental health and change where we fall on the mental health range.

Individual psychological and biological characteristics such as emotional intelligence, substance abuse, and genetics can make people more vulnerable to mental health problems.

People are more likely to suffer from mental health disorders when they are exposed to unfavorable social, economic and environmental factors such as poverty, violence, inequality, and environmental deprivation.

While risks can arise at any point in life, they are especially harmful when they arise in developmental stages, such as early childhood. For instance, it is well established that physical punishment and strict parenting negatively impact children’s health, and bullying is a major risk factor for mental health issues.

However mental health risks and protective factors can be found in society at different levels. Local threats increase risk for individuals, families and communities. Global threats increase risk for whole populations and include economic downturns, disease outbreaks, humanitarian emergencies and forced displacement and the growing climate crisis.

Each single risk and protective factor has only limited predictive strength. Most people do not develop a mental health condition despite exposure to a risk factor and many people with no known risk factor still develop a mental health condition. Nonetheless, the interacting determinants of mental health serve to enhance or undermine mental health.

Mental health promotion and prevention

Promotion and prevention interventions work by identifying the individual, social and structural determinants of mental health, and then intervening to reduce risks, build resilience and establish supportive environments for mental health. Interventions can be designed for individuals, specific groups or whole populations.

Promotion and prevention programmes should involve the education, labour, justice, transport, environment, housing, and welfare sectors. The health sector can contribute significantly by embedding promotion and prevention efforts within health services; and by advocating, initiating and, where appropriate facilitating multisectoral collaboration and coordination.

Suicide prevention is a global priority and included in the Sustainable Development Goals. Much progress can be achieved by limiting access to means, responsible media reporting, social and emotional learning for adolescents and early intervention. Banning highly hazardous pesticides is a particularly inexpensive and cost–effective intervention for reducing suicide rates.

Promoting child and adolescent mental health is another priority and can be achieved by policies and laws that promote and protect mental health, supporting caregivers to provide nurturing care, implementing school-based programmes and improving the quality of community and online environments. School-based social and emotional learning programmes are among the most effective promotion strategies for countries at all income levels.

Promoting and protecting mental health at work is a growing area of interest and can be supported through legislation and regulation, organizational strategies, manager training and interventions for workers.

In the context of national efforts to strengthen mental health, it is vital to not only protect and promote the mental well-being of all, but also to address the needs of people with mental health conditions. This should be done through community-based mental health care, which is more accessible and acceptable than institutional care, helps prevent human rights violations and delivers better recovery outcomes for people with mental health conditions.


2019 Global Health Estimates (GHE), WHO, 2020

 Centers for Disease Control and PreventionNational Center for Injury Prevention and Control https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm

Global status report on alcohol and health 2018

Institute of health Metrics and Evaluation. Global Health Data Exchange (GHDx)

Mental health – World Health Organization (WHO) https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response

Mental health – World Health Organization (WHO) https://www.who.int/health-topics/mental-health#tab=tab_1

Mental health of adolescents (2021), https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health

WHO Global Health Estimates 2000-2019

World Drug Report 2020 


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