WHO, UNICEF alert to worsening mental ill-health in Africa

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), yesterday, on the occasion of the World Mental Health Day (WMHD) alerted to aggravating risks for mental ill-health in Africa.

They said at least one in seven children in Sub-Saharan Africa experiences significant psychological hardship, stressing the need for increased investment and access prevention and response services on the continent.

WHO and UNICEF said kids and adolescents were predisposed to mental health problems, especially vulnerable children facing poverty, discrimination and violence.

They observed that lack of basic social, health and education services, combined with wide-reaching structural inequalities, was worsening the situation.

Both global agencies said the effects of climate change, compounded by high rates of HIV infection, adolescent pregnancies and humanitarian emergencies, were ongoing threats to mental wellbeing of children and adolescents in Africa.

Research showed that 50 per cent of mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75 percent by mid-20s. UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Mohamed M. Fall, said: “Addressing child and adolescent mental health in Africa is urgent. Over the years, millions of young people have been exposed to challenges most adults would find very difficult to cope with, often having to deal with the psychological impacts on their own. Our systems are still failing them.”

To respond to the growing crisis, UNICEF and the WHO committed to a 10-year Joint Programme on Mental Health and Psychosocial Well-being and Development of Children and Adolescents in Africa. Signed in 2020, the decade-long collaborative effort is working with local governments to strengthen mental health and psychosocial support systems for children, adolescents and their caregivers. This would also help bring mental health into national preparedness efforts and take away any stigma that might come with mental health issues.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, submitted: “Investment in mental health remains extremely low in Africa, with government expenditure at less than one U.S. dollar per capita. We simply cannot afford to let millions of children, needing care, go without help.

“It is time to make a difference and ensure that children grow into adulthood free of the potentially lifelong and devastating impacts of unaddressed mental health challenges.”

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