Depression and mental health problems are the most common causes of illness and disability in children between 10 and 19 years, a new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed.
The study, entitled ‘Health of the world’s adolescents’, released last week, looked at the leading causes of death and disability in young people throughout the world.
In 2012, an estimated 1.3 million adolescents died worldwide. The top three causes were traffic accidents, HIV/Aids and suicide.
“The world has not paid enough attention to adolescent health,” said Dr Flavia Bustreo, the WHO assistant director of family, women’s and children’s health.
“We hope this report will focus on the health needs of 10 to 19-year-olds and serve as a springboard for accelerated action on adolescent health,” she added.
Mental health is a serious problem in Rwanda compared to other countries in the region because of the trauma caused by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
A study showed that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affected 29 per cent of the country’s population in 2011.
Out of the 109 countries examined in the WHO study, only a quarter had policies that addressed mental health problems in adolescents. The report said policy is the best method to deal with the problem.Rwanda already has such a policy, which was revised in 2010.
It promotes awareness, integration and decentralisation of mental service, as well as an inter-sector collaboration between the Ministry of Health, NGOs and other stakeholders.
Dr Yvonne Kayiteshonga, the head of mental health division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said Rwanda has had a shortage of professionals who could address and treat mental health issues in the past, but this problem has been addressed with the current policy.
“All the 462 health centres in the country have at minimum a general health practitioner who can address mental health issues,” she explained.
There is also a good number of counsellors and social workers working with women, youth and family organisations, she added.
In addition, there are multiple programmes that target youth, she noted. Many of these focus on preventing PTSD, or treating problems through peer support.
“If you create good healthcare services, but people are not seeking care, something is missing,” Kayiteshonga said.
“So we are putting efforts into educating the population about mental health issues,” she added.