Child and adolescent mental health


Childhood and adolescence are critical stages of life for mental health and well-being. This is when young people develop skills in self-control, social interaction and learning. Negative experiences – at home due to family conflict or at school due to bullying, for example – have a damaging effect on the development of these core cognitive and emotional skills. The socioeconomic conditions in which children grow up can also have an impact on their choices and opportunities in adolescence and adulthood.

Exposure to risk factors in early life can significantly affect mental well-being years and even decades later. The consequences of such exposure can be seen in high and increasing rates of mental health and behavioural problems at the population level.

In the WHO European Region, depression and anxiety disorders fall into the top 5 causes of overall disease burden among children and adolescents (as measured by disability-adjusted life years). Suicide is the leading cause of death among 10–19-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries of the Region, and the second-leading cause in high-income countries.

Supportive parenting, a secure home life and a positive learning environment in school are the key factors in building and protecting mental well-being, or mental capital, in childhood and adolescence.

WHO/Europe is working in collaboration with a range of international partners to generate better information and evidence about key mental health risks and consequences, and to develop appropriate public health responses in a number of Member States. These responses include protection against poverty, exclusion, abuse and violence; promotion of life-skills training and socioemotional learning in schools; prevention of self-harm and suicide; and early identification and management of mental health or behavioural problems.