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Lifting the veil that keeps young people locked in a chamber of isolation and silence

More than 100,000 young people die from self-harm every year in the Asia-Pacific region. Over half of them are young women. In Asia and the Pacific, self-harm is the leading cause of death for young women and the second-highest cause of death for young men.

As many as half of all mental health disorders start by age 14. However, most go unrecognized and untreated which has serious consequences for mental health throughout life.

The Global School Health Survey conducted in Maldives in 2009 revealed that nearly 20 percent of students seriously considered attempting suicide.

These are concerning issues considering nearly one-fifth of the global population is comprised of youth aged 14-24 years, with 85-90 per cent of this group living in low-income countries.

“A new publication from the United Nations shows that 20 per cent of the world’s young people experience a mental health condition each year.  The risks are especially great as they transition from childhood to adulthood.  For this year’s observance of International Youth Day, the United Nations wants to help lift the veil that keeps young people locked in a chamber of isolation and silence,” United Nation’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his statement on International Youth Day.

Under the theme of this year’s International Youth Day “Youth and Mental Health”, the United Nations is raising awareness to help young people overcome the stigma surrounding mental health to ensure that young people with mental health conditions can lead full and healthy lives free of isolation and unnecessary shame, and that they openly seek the services and support they need.

Youth with mental health conditions can often experience stigma and discrimination, which in turn can lead to exclusion and discourage young people from seeking fear of being negatively ‘labelled’. As a result, the issue of stigma prevents them from seeking the support they need.

“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”, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin noted in his statement on International Youth Day.

Recent studies show that mental and behavioral conditions are the leading causes of health problems in young people in both high- and low- resource countries, accounting for one third of all years lost productivity due to disability.

For instance, the level of control that girls have over their basic bodily integrity and human rights is a large factor affecting their mental health. Infringements such as forced marriage, sexual violence, unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions all have consequences on girls’ mental health. 1 in 8 women aged 15-49 (12.2%) in Maldives reported that they had been sexually abused before the age of 15.

Suicide is a significant, though often unrecognized, contributor to maternal mortality. Further, suicide is disproportionately associated with adolescent pregnancy. This is significant considering that in 2010, it is estimated that 36.4 million women in developing countries aged 20-24 report having had a birth before age 18. Of that total, 17.4 million are in South Asia. However, mental health issues have generally been neglected in initiatives that seek to improve adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health.

Experts agrees that a public-health approach to the prevention of behavioral and mental-health conditions is instrumental in addressing this issue at a global level.

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