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Opinions of Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Columnist: Eugenia Ntekor

The absence of children, adolescent mental health services, matters arising

File photo of children File photo of children

The absence of children, adolescent mental health services, matters arising
A couple of days ago, I woke up to a rather disturbing image on WhatsApp. A young teenage girl had taken her own life in a school’s dining hall. What got me more disturbed was the sentiments about the manner she passed on and the rumours surrounding it all.

I was particularly astounded by the lack of empathy, denial and failing to acknowledge the difficulties and trauma that may have led to her death. I found general views rather startling.

Here are some key facts from WHO:

1.Mental Health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of diseases and injury of people aged 10-19.

2.Half of all mental health conditions start at age 14 but most cases are undetected.

3.Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents. At its worse, it can lead to suicide.

4.Suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15-19 year olds.

Determinants

Adolescence (10-19years) is a unique formative time. Multiple factors determine mental health outcomes.

Some determinants would make adolescents vulnerable to mental health difficulties. These include: Poverty (relative), abuse-physical, emotional, sexual, trauma, and violence, stress which includes pressure to conform with peers, media influence and gender norms, disparity between lived reality, perceptions and aspirations for the future.

Other determinants include harsh parenting, bullying and social- economic problems. The more risk factors children and adolescents are exposed to, the greater the potential impact on their mental health.

Non-Existence of Resources

There is a huge and widening mental health gap for children and adolescents in Ghana and Africa as a whole with very little resources dedicated to the mental health of our children and adolescents. It is worrying that we are still in denial and refuse to accept that children and adolescents do have and are vulnerable to mental health difficulties.

There is no clear pathway to access treatment and no programmes to educate parents, communities about children and adolescent mental health to help families. We sadly still spiritualize children and adolescent mental health, causing stigma and rejection.