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Depression top illness cause among adolescents: WHO

LiveMint logoLiveMint 14-05-2014 Nikita Mehta

New Delhi: Depression is the top cause of illness and disability among those aged between 10 and 19, while suicide is the third-most common cause of death in the age group, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Studies have shown that half of those who develop mental disorders first show symptoms by the age of 14, and that if adolescents with mental health problems get the care they need, it can prevent deaths and lifelong suffering, according to the WHO.

More than 2,000 people under 14 years committed suicide in India in 2012. The highest rate of suicides was in the ages between 14 and 29 years. One of the top three reasons for the suicides was mental and other illnesses.

Globally, road accident injuries and HIV/AIDS were the top two causes of adolescent deaths, according to the WHO report, titled Health for the World’s Adolescents, published on Wednesday.

Boys are more prone to road accident-related injuries than girls, with fatalities among boys three times more than that among girls. WHO has suggested that road-safety regulations and establishing safe pedestrian areas around schools can reduce risks.

Worldwide, around 1.3 million adolescents died in 2012.

The report also noted that maternal mortality is the second-most common cause of deaths for girls aged 15-19 years, though pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths have declined since 2000.

The report said that only one in every four adolescents gets enough exercise, and in some countries one in three are obese. “If left unchecked, health problems and behaviours that arise during adolescence—such as tobacco and alcohol use, diet and exercise patterns, overweight and obesity—have a serious impact on the health and development of adolescents today, and potentially devastating effects on their health as adults tomorrow,” said Jane Ferguson, a scientist in WHO’s department of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health, and lead author of the report.

Experts in India say that non-communicable diseases, which are mostly lifestyle-related, might be the biggest concern for adolescent health in India.

“The primary focus of health policy has been sexual health among adolescents which is much needed because of the large number of teenage pregnancies,” said Raj Panda, a senior public health specialist at the Delhi-based Public Health Foundation of India. “However, we need a more holistic approach and include large-scale interventions to deal with non-communicable diseases among adolescents, and even mental health which is also a cause for concern.”

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