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(The RAND Blog)

August 11, 2014

We Need to Talk About the Taboo — 'Mental Health Matters'

Photo by Iakov Filimonov/Fotolia

by Marie-Louise Henham

It is disappointing that youth mental health remains a taboo topic for many, even though more than 23 percent of the world's young people, aged between 15 and 24, experience a mental health condition. The stigma surrounding mental health often leads young people to shy away from seeking the help and support they need, leaving them to face discrimination and exclusion.

Mental health conditions can have a significant impact on young people's development and integration into society and the world of work. It is thought that 50 percent of all disorders in adulthood have appeared by the time an individual is aged 14. Left ignored and untreated, these conditions can result in adverse effects that last a lifetime. Surely this taboo needs tackling?

This year's celebration of the UN's International Youth Day (12th August) brings a timely focus on "Mental Health Matters" with the aim of raising awareness and helping to remove the stigma. To celebrate the day, UN bodies are hosting a panel discussion on Social Inclusion of Youth with Mental Health Conditions, which aims to draw youth-focused organisations, representatives from member states, civil society, UN bodies and young people together to discuss the impact of discrimination faced by youth with mental illnesses. Alongside this discussion the UN is also running a campaign which aims to highlight the importance of stubbing the stigma around mental health and youth through engagement in events, advocacy or simple conversation.

Now is the time to talk about mental health matters so that young people can fully realise their potential and achieve greater well-being; and the need for a solid evidence base is crucial to those discussions. The European Commission's European Platform for Investing in Children (EPIC) supports this effort and features innovative practices that help young people with mental health conditions and their families through "practices that work." One example is the European Early Promotion Project, an experimental service that has been integrated into the primary health care systems within five countries. Its goal is to promote children's mental health and prevent the onset of psychosocial problems in children aged 0-2.

With platforms such as EPIC in place and International Youth Day carving out a much needed space to highlight the issue of young people and mental health, there is every hope that the topic will gain deserved attention from policymakers, young people and others and that there can be cooperation and mutual learning. As the UN's World Map of Events for International Youth Day celebrations illustrates, support for the effort is truly global, an acknowledgement that now, more than ever, is the time to talk about mental health.


Marie-Louise Henham is an associate analyst in the Education, Employment and Social Policy team at RAND Europe.

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