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Did you know that 40% of adolescents are said to suffer from mental illness

More than two-fifths of Kenyan teenagers reported having a mental health problem, and one in eight met the criteria for a mental illness.

Mental health problems and mental disorders are common health problems among adolescents. Globally, mental and substance use disorders are the leading causes of disability among adolescents, according to the National Adolescent Mental Health Survey published by the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), University of Queensland, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Social phobia, general anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, conduct disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were among the mental illnesses included in the survey.

Disease burden

“These disorders were chosen as they are the most prevalent mental disorders in adolescence and are responsible for a significant proportion of disease burden in this age group,” the report reads in part.

Adolescent mental health issues can have immediate and long-term effects on their health and social well-being, the study found. For instance, adolescents with poor mental health are more likely to take drugs, get pregnant while young, drop out of school and engage in risky behaviour.

The report shows no difference in prevalence between male and female adolescents.

Anxiety, for instance, had the highest prevalence (26.7 %) of any mental health problem, followed by problems with inattention and hyperactivity (18.2 %).

Anxiety had the highest reported prevalence (26.2 % and 27.2 %, respectively) of any mental health problem for males and females. Males had a higher prevalence of problems with inattention and/or hyperactivity (20.1 % vs 16.4 percent) and conduct problems (10.6 % vs 6.4 %) than females.

Further, older adolescents had a higher prevalence of depression (9.9 %) and post-traumatic stress (7.1 %) than younger adolescents (4.6 % and 4.4 %, respectively).

Comparatively, younger adolescents had a higher prevalence of problems with inattention and/or hyperactivity (21.3 %) than older adolescents (14.6 %).

The study also shows that most teenagers with mental health issues indicated some impairment due to their symptoms, whether they ticked all symptoms necessary for a diagnosis (12.2 %) or at least half of the symptoms (17.9 %).

Among those reporting impairment, almost half reported impairment in the family domain (49.9 %), while over two-fifths reported impairment concerning personal distress (44.6 %) or school/work (42.3 %).

Diagnostic criteria for mental disorder were met by 12.2 % of adolescents, with 2.4 % having two or more mental disorders in the past 12 months. Anxiety disorders had the highest prevalence (5.6 %) of any mental disorder.

Similarly, no difference in the overall prevalence of mental disorders was seen between younger (11.8 %) and older (12.6 %) adolescents overall.

Younger adolescents had a higher prevalence of ADHD (4.8 %) than older adolescents (2 %). Older adolescents had a higher prevalence of major depressive disorder (3.0 %) and conduct disorder (3.6 %), in comparison to younger adolescents (1.2 % and 2.1 %, respectively).


Of those with any mental disorder, close to two-thirds reported impairment in the family domain (63 %), with over half reporting impairment in the school/work (56.4 %) and personal distress (54.2 %) domains, respectively.

The average age of the adolescent participants was 13.3 years, with younger adolescents aged 10-13 years constituting more than half (54.6 %) of the adolescent sample. Regarding sex distribution, the sample consisted of more females (53.1 %) than males (46.9 %).

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