New global report: depression predominant cause of illness and disability among adolescents

Nik Neubauer

A new WHO report, “Health for the world’s adolescents”, brings together, for the first time, all the WHO guidance on the full spectrum of health issues affecting adolescents.

Although adolescents are often thought of as a healthy group, many die prematurely from accidents, suicide, violence and other illnesses that are either preventable or treatable. Many more suffer chronic ill health and disability.

In addition, many serious diseases in adulthood have their roots in adolescence. For example, tobacco use, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, and poor eating and exercise habits may lead to illness or premature death later in life.

The report reveals that depression is the predominant cause of illness and disability for both boys and girls aged 10 to 19 years. The top 3 causes of adolescent deaths globally are road traffic injuries, HIV/AIDS and suicide. The report recommends key actions to strengthen the ways countries respond to adolescents’ physical and mental health needs.

Include adolescents in policy making

Adolescence is an important time for laying the foundations of good health in adulthood, and the determinants of adolescent health are now much better understood. The social values and norms of the immediate family, peer groups and school environments may expose adolescents to risk, as well as protect them. The challenge for policy is to tip the balance between risk and protection in favour of well-being and away from behaviour that may undermine health.

At the 64th session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in September 2014, the 53 Member States of the WHO European Region will discuss a strategy for child and adolescent health together with an action plan for child maltreatment. The strategy highlights the need to involve adolescents in decision-making to ensure that the programmes and services aimed at this population group meet their needs.