Why We Need To Pay More Attention To African Teens’ Mental Health

African Teens' Mental Health
Photo by Kenex Media sa from Pexels

Being a teenager is difficult enough but with an untreated mental health condition it can be almost impossible. With one in every five teens having a mental illness, that may be why suicide it the third leading cause of deaths in those between the ages of 15 and 19. And 2/3 of them are not getting the help they need. To keep our African teens healthy, it is important to focus on their mental health as well as their physical health because they are intertwined.

Between the ages of 12 and 20, we are at our most vulnerable mentally as we are growing into adulthood while trying to adjust to all the physical changes in our body. It only makes sense that this is the time that most mental illnesses show up as our brains struggle to develop and emotions are running wild. It is certainly a trying time and may be the main catalyst to the adult life that we lead. Growing up one of Africa’s lower income countries will compound these issues, making it virtually impossible for these teens to have a successful adult life. 

Many African teens with untreated mental illnesses turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate, which will compound the issues as well. While it is difficult for the parents or other caregivers to recognize the signs of mental health disorders sometimes, recognizing a drug or alcohol abuse problem may be the first sign and can be a clue that your child needs help. Although there is a lack of research done in Africa on young people and mental health, with help from the World Health Organization (WHO), this issue is now being addressed. 

Studies done on the mental health of adolescents in African countries have shown that although there is a large number of teens with mental illnesses, there is little to no mental health care for them. Getting for your teen therapy in any of these countries is extremely difficult if not impossible, whether you have the finances or not, just because of the lack of care available. And the statistics of teen suicide deaths being at 9% is giving the WHO even more of a reason to promote mental health care for teens.

The organization has enacted a new mental health action plan to help these countries and encourage more mental health care research and treatment for everyone. By integrating these laws in all African countries, the ability to get help will be easier. As it is now, there is still quite a bit of stigma surrounding mental illness around the globe, but it is even more substantial in Africa, making it hard for anyone to ask for treatment even if they know where to get it and can afford it. The new action plan sponsored by the WHO can help put an end to this by preventing discrimination and human rights violations. 

Making poor choices in teen years is normal but having a mental illness as a teen and not knowing where to turn is enough to cause adolescents to turn to bad decisions. For example, teen pregnancy statistics in African countries has risen to one in every five teens being a mother. And the number of young people with HIV is rising as well. In fact, more than one million young people in Africa die each year from HIV/AIDS related deaths.

The early detection and treatment of teen mental health disorders is essential when it comes to young people because making this is the time in their lives when they are making so many big decisions that will affect their futures. Therefore, it is more important than ever to make sure we pay more attention to our teens’ mental health. 

ADC Editor
Thanks for reading and for your interest in Africa. Content is produced in collaboration between Africa.com’s editorial team and our partners — including nongovernmental organizations, private sector stakeholders, agencies and institutions. If you are interested in telling stories in an impactful way to shine a spotlight on a particular issue, please email editor@africa.com. We look forward to hearing from you.