World Mental Health Day is marked on 10 October every year. This day provides an opportunity to draw attention to Africa’s large and growing burden of mental health conditions, with children and adolescents worst impacted.
This year’s theme, “Make Mental Health and Wellbeing for All a Global Priority”, serves as a reminder that, after nearly three years, the social isolation, fear of disease and death, and strained socio-economic circumstances associated with the COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to an estimated 25% global rise in depression and anxiety.
Across the African Region, more than 116 million people already estimated living with mental health conditions pre-pandemic. Suicide rates remain particularly concerning, as are the exponential rates of alcohol use and abuse among adolescents as young as 13 years of age.
We need to urgently strengthen regulatory systems to close the gaps that allow such young people to easily access alcohol, contributing to heavy episodic drinking rates as high as 80% among teens from 15 to 19. The situation poses a serious threat to their education, while setting the stage for a lifetime of alcohol abuse, and the associated risks of noncommunicable and other related diseases.
Inadequate financing for mental health continues to be the biggest limitation, negatively impacting efforts to expand Africa’s mental health workforce. As things stand, there are fewer than two mental health workers for every 100 000 people, the majority of whom are psychiatric nurses and mental health nursing aids.
With these scarce resources concentrated at large psychiatric institutions in urban areas, people at community and primary care levels are left critically underserved.
World Mental Health Day
On World Mental Health Day today, let us all commit to working together to deepen the value we afford to mental health, to reshape the environments that negatively impact mental health, and to also strengthen the care systems to make mental health care accessible to all Africans.