Suicide is now the leading cause of death in girls aged 15-19 worldwide, surpassing death by childbirth. Differing from other diseases more common in older individuals, mental illness truly is the chronic disease of the young, with 75% being diagnosed before age 24. While other generations faced health concerns of cancer or HIV/AIDS, our biggest challenge will be beginning a mental health revolution. One in four worldwide will have a mental health issue, approximately 450 million people. If you are not 1 of those 4, you likely know someone who is.
For many, like advocate and associate Lian Zeitz from The Global Development Incubator, the mental health system has failed them and didn’t provide care that worked. For others, the system has failed them because there is no option for access. This is especially true for many young people worldwide caught in refugee crisis or facing humanitarian needs. In places like South Sudan, there is only 1 psychologist to serve all of South Sudan, a country continually rattled by ongoing civil war, so services are tremendously difficult to find.
The UN has officially embraced the plan to “Promote Mental Health and Wellbeing” in it’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030, words that were never included in policy prior to when the SDGs were adopted in September 2015. Even with this now at the forefront for many world leaders, the stigma and lack of mental services available around the world remains a challenge. Moitreyee Sinha of the Global Development Incubator says, “mental health is an issue as old as humanity, but also society’s largest asset.”
As young people, our response to mental health and starting a mental health revolution will be the greatest health challenge of our generation.
Our experiences with mental health issues, personally or with those we know, bring power for change. As young leaders responding in international development or responding to refugee and humanitarian crises, there is enormous opportunity to rebuild communities even better than they were before. These crises truly create opportunity to scale and develop services, especially those for mental health.
Youth perspectives will also be essential to reducing stigma in communities around the world, shifting attitudes from “just get over it” to understanding it as a health issue. The beginning of solving this crisis is starting a conversation. Mental health is truly about health, and when our minds are treated with the same medical care as the rest of our bodies, we thrive.
To hear more insights from the mhNOW session during UN General Assembly week, listen to the interviews with Craig Kramer of Johnson & Johnson and Lian Zeitz of the Global Development Incubator below!
Featured image: Eric Stensland Smith / Flickr (Creative Commons)