The Burden of Mental Health on African Youth
With a global rate of 1,051 per 100,000 people visiting mental health outpatient facilities, in Africa, the rate is 14 per 100,000. As the population of Africa grows, the pressure on young people across the continent struggling to earn a living is likely to intensify leading to increased psychological problems. To ensure we adequately respond to these needs, we ought to explicitly identify the barriers to accessing quality mental healthcare and ways in which the youth can be the drivers of change in mental healthcare on the continent. The stigma often associated with mental illness is the most pervasive barrier for youth seeking mental healthcare. The prejudicial attitudes held by the public about mental illness lead them to fear and distance themselves from people with mental illness. To avoid being stigmatized, those suffering from mental illness avoid speaking about what they are going through and ultimately seeking help. An indirect result of the stigma that people with mental illness face is the silence around the topic.
As we avoid talking about mental health, we limit the opportunities to share knowledge with the youth on how to take care of their own mental health and how to respond when experiencing mental challenges. Thus, reducing the chances of early identification and intervention for the youth.
Additionally, there are glaring knowledge gaps in mental health, especially in Africa. Most of the knowledge relied on for planning and intervention is largely based on research conducted outside the continent. This research, although good, fails to capture the unique challenges that the African youth experience and the distinctive presentation of mental illness on the continent hence not suited to our needs. Some mental health professionals also rely on outdated practices to treat clients which reduces the quality of care provided.
Structural Barriers to accessing Quality Care
The structural barriers associated with accessing mental health services present difficulties in accessing these services. The direct and indirect costs associated with accessing mental healthcare services may in some cases serve to discourage help-seeking behaviour in youth. It can cost between 500 to 950 USD to treat mental illness in Kenya with some public mental health facilities requiring a deposit of at least 90 USD for admission. These figures are out of reach for numerous youth in Kenya who are either in school or are in their first jobs. The limited investment in mental health services by African governments pushes individuals seeking these services to private facilities whose costs are even higher.
Emerging Opportunities for Care
To increase access to data on mental health, it is imperative that the youth leverage the technological opportunities available. The use of social media as a platform to create awareness of the mental health challenges faced by young people provides a unique opportunity for wider reach. Making research-backed information readily available on platforms that are popular among the youth can serve to build the capacity of young people on early identification of mental illness. This population can also use social media to disseminate information on inpatient/ outpatient mental health facilities that provide affordable services. This move can increase help-seeking behaviour among the youth.
The backbone of any country’s response to the emerging mental illness pressures lies with the budget allocation and implementation of mental healthcare. In Kenya, only 0.01% of the health budget is allocated towards mental healthcare. The youth ought to be actively involved in the budget process through public participation forums where they can influence mobilization and allocation of public funds towards mental healthcare in their countries. This will ensure that their governments increase their expenditure to adequately respond to the mental health needs of its population through employing more psychiatrists/ psychologists, funding more mental health hospitals among others.
Youth and Research
Youth contribution to research on mental health can lead to the development of interventions that are sensitive to the unique challenges experienced on the continent. By contributing to the research conducted on mental health, the youth will build Africa’s capacity to come up with and implement evidence-based interventions that are culturally sensitive, ultimately driving their acceptability and relatability on the continent.
As we mark International Youth Day 2021, it is important for our youth to recognize that they are important agents of change in the transformation of mental healthcare on the continent.
Article Written by: Tracey Wasunna and edited by Devon Andrews