Half of mental illnesses begin by age 14 — Expert

A psychiatrist, Dr Ayotunde Omotoso says contrary to many people’s perspectives, one in five children and adolescents has mental illness, the leading cause of disability among people who are young.

Omotosho, a consultant psychiatrist at the University of Ilorin, speaking at the Asido Foundation’s August 2021 Interactive Monthly Community Engagement webinar titled “Youth and the Changing Mental Health Needs of Today’s World,” said mental illness is prevalent in adolescents and half of all the mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters by the mid-20s.

According to him, “If you see anybody with a mental illness, anybody at all, chances are that that illness started, when they were adolescent or at least, in their youthful years.”

The child and adolescent psychiatrist said the traditional mental health needs of youths have transitions beyond what they were to include COVID-19 related-manifestations.

He declared: “There are some problems that may not necessarily be sexual, but the important nonetheless such as suicide are on the rise. For instance, the rates have risen in the last couple of years by over 300% and that means that we really need to pay attention to it.

“For depression, the rates are on the rise. The symptom of depression in youths is often not the same as we would see in older people. Older people may come with undue sadness and feeling weak in their body. But young people may just be cranky or angry; they want to be alone, sleeping too much and spending more time than usual on the internet.”

Dr Omotoso said some of the changing mental health needs of adolescents aside from their traditional sexual and reproductive needs are related to globalisation, migration, social media and COVID-19 stress-related disorders.

He stated that meeting mental health needs of adolescents in Nigeria would require scaling up youth friendly psychiatry services that had one psychiatrist to a million Nigerians; strengthen and support social determinants of health like education and nutrition, increase research on mental health and the passage of the Nigeria’s mental health bill into law.

Chief Executive Officer, Asido Foundation, Dr Jibril Abdulmalik, stated that the foundation was established to counter the ocean of ignorance, shame and stigma around mental health by providing evidence-based information and engaging in advocacy and intervention activities, with an overall aim to improve the mental health of all Nigerians.

He stated that resilience; overcoming adversity, perseverance and surmounting the odds are all attributes everyone needs to enjoy a good mental health and well being.

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