1 out of 50 adolescents have contemplated suicide, study says

Mental Health

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in seven 10-19-year-olds globally experiences a mental disorder

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Adolescents who had suicidal thoughts, made suicide plans or attempted suicide in the previous 12 months reported doing so at rates of 4.6, 2.4, and 1 percent, respectively.

According to a recent report by National Adolescent Mental Health Survey, only 2.1 percent claimed to have attempted suicide.

However, nearly half of the individuals who battled a mental disorder, and over 80 percent of those endorsing a suicide activity (ideation, planning, and/or attempt) in the previous year, had a mental health issue.

Slightly more than 4 percent of adolescents reported having done something to deliberately harm themselves (4.3 percent), with 1.2 percent reporting self-harming in the past 12 months.

However, almost all adolescents who reported deliberately harming themselves in the past 12 months had a mental health problem (89.6 percent), with half (50.3 percent) having a mental disorder.

Mental health problem means any changes in mental health, such as thinking, mood, and/or behavior, that can affect how an individual relates to others and makes choices.

“The absence of data on the prevalence of teenage mental disorders in Kenya hinders efforts to promote adolescent mental health in that country,” the report reads. in part.

Geographic coverage, small sample sizes, restricted age ranges, and the use of symptom measures rather than diagnostic tools that more precisely diagnose mental diseases based on accepted classifications limit the current research on teenage mental health.

The prevalence data for child and adolescent mental disorders using diagnostic instruments had only 6.7 percent global "coverage" or representativeness worldwide, according to Erskine's study, which found a stark disparity between coverage for high-income countries (HICs; 26.4 percent) and low- and middle-income countries (LMICs; 4.5 percent).

The same analysis discovered that there was just one estimate for anxiety disorders in Kenya, translating to coverage of less than 1 percent for all mental diseases.

Policymakers, practitioners, and academics are substantially hindered by the absence of such data for Kenya in terms of building effective service plans, engaging governments in action, and raising awareness and funding for adolescent mental health.

"Knowledge of the prevalence of mental disorders, as well as underlying risk and protective factors, is therefore essential to inform mental health policies and programs, as well as for effective resource planning," the report added.

This prevalence indicates that mental health is a public health issue that requires the attention of policymakers and planners in Kenya.

The data from Kenya-National Adolescent Mental Health Survey provides a foundational evidence base for such policy and health initiatives.

For example, the vast majority of adolescents were currently attending school and as such, implementing specific screening and management strategies integrated with mental health promotion activities within the school setting could be one vehicle to reduce the prevalence of mental health problems.

Similarly, the observed age and sex differences in the prevalence of specific mental health problems and mental disorders indicate a potential opportunity for more targeted strategies.

For example, designing school-based programs that focus on problems with inattention and/or hyperactivity among younger adolescents while developing depression management strategies for older adolescents could be a more effective use of limited resources.

Preventive interventions targeting younger adolescents may also lower the risk of depression in older adolescence.

The onset of mental disorders tends to occur during adolescence, offering a unique opportunity to provide early intervention and mental health services tailored to adolescents.

"Effective treatment and support can decrease or resolve symptoms and improve functioning, while early positive experiences accessing mental healthcare can promote future help-seeking behaviors, reducing the burden on the individual and the health system into adulthood," the read added.

The report states that for the effective planning and delivery of adolescent mental health services, it is vital to comprehend current treatment utilization patterns.

Information on service use trends can be gathered to address treatment barriers, identify service delivery gaps, and determine whether current mental health services are appropriate and accessible.

“This is crucial for adolescents with significant difficulties receiving care because of peer pressure, familial pressure, and financial constraints. In addition, the stigma around mental illness and ignorance of the subject has been shown to negatively affect help-seeking and parents' or adolescents' "perceived need" (i.e., whether an individual think that help is required),” the report added.

Understanding the issues that affect teenagers enables targeted action to lower obstacles and enhance treatment use and care outcomes for those with mental health issues.

Few people with mental problems receive any treatment, according to data from global health surveys carried out in LMICs.

This may be caused by several things, such as a lack of mental health resources, community knowledge of mental health issues, and the stigma associated with mental illnesses and seeking mental health care.

Measures of barriers to care among primary caregivers identifying that their adolescent needed help appeared to have some relation to both mental health literacy and stigma. Close to a quarter of primary caregivers (24.3 percent) reported not knowing where to get help is concerning, given that most adolescents (78.9 percent) reported speaking to a family member when having worries or concerns.

This indicates that the family (particularly caregivers) are the likely 'gatekeepers' within the home to accessing mental health services. Further, the preference by a quarter (24.1 percent) of these primary caregivers to handle their adolescent's problem themselves may indicate a stigma surrounding accessing support for mental health.

Previous studies from Kenya also identified a lack of awareness of mental health in the community and stigma against mental illness and mental health services as barriers to accessing services.