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SFA Foundation report outlines approach for enhancing youth mental health and wellbeing

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Current estimates suggest that approximately 75% of all mental disorders emerge before the age of 24.

Today, the Science for Africa Foundation (SFA Foundation) is releasing a report that highlights the importance of youth-informed research, interventions, and national mental health policies in promoting the mental health and wellbeing of young people.  

The findings of the ‘Exploration of Stressors and Protective Factors Influencing Youth Mental Health’ report cover the 13 focal countries for Being, a collaborative initiative to improve the mental wellbeing of young people (aged 10 to 24) in low- and middle-income countries that include Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Romania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Vietnam. It is being published following an analysis of specific country reports commissioned by Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) for the 13 focal countries (see the recent Mapping Youth Mental Landscapes: Local Insights report by GCC), three virtual convenings involving clinicians, researchers, and academics in mental health, along with individuals with lived experiences of mental health challenges from the focal countries—and beyond—in addition to an online survey. In 2023, the SFA Foundation joined Being’s global partners that include Fondation Botnar, Grand Challenges Canada (funded in part by the Government of Canada), United for Global Mental Health, Orygen and the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care using UK aid through the National Institute for Health and Care Research. 

“Through our support for science and innovation, the SFA Foundation strives to pave the way for evidence-based policies and interventions that will positively impact the lives of people in Africa and globally. Safeguarding the future of our youth, including their mental wellbeing, is paramount to our mission," said Dr Evelyn Gitau, Chief Scientific Officer for the SFA Foundation. 

Key findings from the report include: 

  • From the 6 African countries — Egypt, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania — mood disorders including anxiety and depression in addition to substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) represent the major mental health problems among young people. A similar picture was observed in Romania.  

  • In the 4 countries in Asia — India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam — conduct disorders, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder and suicide were more pronounced among youth—alongside mood disorders, PTSD and suicide.  

  • In Colombia and Ecuador, the predominant mental health issues affecting youth were related to substance abuse and suicide. 

Youth is a phase of the life span that includes puberty, adolescence, and young adulthood. It marks a critical period of life when the brain is particularly vulnerable to environmental, physiological and psychological stressors that may disrupt brain architecture, culminating in the emergence of mental illness (Bitanihirwe and Woo, 2020). Current estimates suggest that approximately 75% of all mental disorders emerge before the age of 24 (Kessler et al., 2005) and mental health conditions constitute a major burden of disease on adolescents and youth globally. Protective factors such as community acceptance, faith and peer support can help promote the mental health wellbeing of young people, according to the SFA Foundation report. 
In addition to the inclusive engagement of diverse youth in decision-making processes and research, the report recommends the robust monitoring and evaluation of interventions to inform policy and practice. “The release of this report marks a significant step forward in efforts to empower young people and improve their mental wellbeing. By listening to their voices, understanding their challenges, and implementing targeted interventions, we can create a brighter future for the next generation.” said Dr Byron Bitanihirwe, Programme Manager for the Being initiative at the SFA Foundation.  Read the report here