…UNFPA executive director
August 12, 2015
The UNFPA executive-director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, says suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young people worldwide.
Speaking ahead of International Youth Day today, 12 August, on the theme, “Mental Health Matters” Dr. Osotimehin says a safe and healthy passage from adolescence into adulthood is the right of every child.
He further notes that being healthy means not merely the absence of illness, but complete physical, mental and social well-being.
The UNFPA executive-director maintains that an essential component of mental and social well-being is the ability to realise one’s potential, cope with the stresses of life, build healthy relationships, work productively and participate fully in society.
“Yet, the mental health of young people is largely ignored and, as a result, depression is the largest cause of disability, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young people worldwide,” he stresses.
He says on their journey to adulthood, adolescents discover who they are, what they aspire to and the risks they face, adding they come to terms with how their identities relate to those around them and learn to deal with social expectations.
“It is critically important for adolescents to have supportive relationships with teachers, role models and mentors, so that they can emerge into adulthood with positive self-esteem and self-value,” he says.
Dr. Osotimehin says 1 in 4 adolescent girls are sexually assaulted, while 1 in 3 young women were married before the age of 18, noting that the situation is even worse for millions of adolescents living in areas of conflict or humanitarian crises.
“When adolescents are prevented from having control over their physical and mental integrity, it has severe consequences for their mental health,” he says, adding that such results in post-traumatic stress disorders and depression, multiply the injustice they face, the burden of unwanted pregnancies, HIV infection or unsafe abortions.
He says early exposure to trauma and adversity is an established preventable risk factor for mental disorders, while being able to access health services is essential for all young people.
He discloses that young people living with mental health disabilities are prevented from getting the care and treatment they require, and that those admitted to psychiatric institutions often face degrading treatment and inhuman living conditions.
“All young people, particularly those with mental disabilities, are excluded from community life, denied the opportunity to participate in decision-making, denied the right to vote, marry and have children, gain access to appropriate care, integrate into society and recover from their illnesses,” he says.
He urges the international community to do more to fulfil its obligations to young people in respect of mental health issues. He adds that the UNFPA operates in more than 150 countries and territories around the world to ensure that adolescents and youth have the knowledge, skills and services to enable them exercise their rights, understand their bodies, and make informed decisions about their health and well-being.
“Through the Action for Adolescent Girls initiative, we are focusing on their health, safety, education, engagement and empowerment,” he says, noting that when adolescent girls have knowledge, self-esteem, confidence, friends, mentors and health services, they are more able to exercise their rights and make sure young people’s voices and priorities are incorporated in development plans and policies.