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Mental health, the new evil of the century? The diagnosis is made, and studies and reports follow one another to confirm it. The world’s population is doing badly, and this is even more the case among younger generations. This is what reveals a new inventory which estimates that 293 million children, adolescents and young adults aged 5 to 24 live with a mental disorder in the world, or one in ten young people.
“There is an urgent need to transform mental health and care“. It is by these terms that the World Health Organization (WHO) presented a report in June 2022 on the mental health of the world population. The health authority, which then estimated at nearly a billion the number of people – including 14% of adolescents – living with a mental disorder in 2019, “exhort[ait] decision-makers and mental health advocates to intensify their commitment and action to change attitudes, measures and approaches towards mental health, its determinants and the care devoted to it“. Two years later, the findings still seem alarming, at least in view of the data published on a global and national scale.
A team of university researchers based in Canada and Brazil has looked into the subject, and provides a new overview specifically focused on children and adolescents. Published in the journal JAMA Psychiatrytheir conclusions alert to the fact that “the period from childhood to early adulthood involves increased susceptibility to the onset of mental disorders“. Among the main results of this study, which is based on data from the 2019 Global Burden of Disease survey, is the “high prevalence of mental disorders among children and adolescents“.
More than one in ten people aged 5 to 24, or 293 million people, live with a diagnosable mental disorder worldwide. “Approximately one-fifth of all disease-related disability (all causes) was attributable to mental disorders in this population. Additionally, this age group accounts for approximately a quarter of the lifetime burden of mental disorders.“, we can read in the study. More than 30 million children and adolescents suffer from a substance use disorder. In detail, the average prevalence for mental disorders is estimated at 6.8 % for 5-9 year olds, 12.4% for 10-14 year olds, 13.96% for 15-19 year olds, and 13.63% for 20-24 year olds.
“We are betraying our children”
The findings of this study echo a recently published report by The Academy of Medical Sciences, which calls for “urgent action” to address “failing children’s health” in the UK. The child health experts behind this work report “major health problems”, including infant mortality, obesity, and dental health, and estimate the cost of inaction in favor of children’s health. children at least £16 billion a year.
Among the major lessons of this work is the decline in infant survival rates, “worse than in 60% of similar countries”, but also a three-fold increase in the number of children living in extreme poverty between 2019 and 2022 , a rise in demand for children’s mental health services, and the fact that more than a fifth of children aged 5 are overweight or obese. Another observation, vaccination rates have plummeted, to the point of now being below the safety thresholds of the World Health Organization, estimate the authors.
“Every child has the right to a safe and healthy childhood. It is shameful that the UK cannot do this. Child deaths are increasing, infant survival is lagging behind comparable countries, and preventable physical and mental health problems are plaguing our youngest citizens. The science is clear: we are failing our children. If the health of babies and young children is not an urgent priority, we are condemning many people to lives of poorer health and lost potential. It’s time to act“, explains Professor Helen Minnis, co-chair of the report.
What about France?
“In 2023, the mental health of young people remains degraded“, indicated Public health France last October. According to publicly available data, cases of depression have increased sharply among these younger generations in recent years. 20.8% of 18-24 year olds were affected by these types of disorders, compared to 11.7% in 2017. The finding is the same among young people aged 17 for severe anxiety-depressive symptoms, going from 4 .5% in 2017 to 9.5% in 2022.
“In September 20233, visits to emergency rooms for suicidal gestures and thoughts, mood disorders (particularly depressive episodes) and anxiety disorders, as well as SOS Médecins medical procedures for anxiety increased among children under 18 years of age and in particular 11-17 year olds, as usual during the back-to-school period. In these age groups, the levels observed remained high but comparable to those of 2021 and 2022, with the exception of passages for suicidal thoughts among 11-17 year olds (levels higher than previous years)“, we can read in this study.