44% of Kenyan Adolescents Suffers Mental Health Problems-Study

October 18, 2022

About 44.3 percent of adolescents in Kenya have had a mental health problem while one in eight met criteria for a mental disorder in the past 12 months.

This is according to 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.

Mental health reflects  emotional, psychological, and social well-being of a person, they affect how one think, feel, and act and has a strong impact on the way one interact with others, handle problems, and make decisions according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

On the other hand, mental disorder/illnesses refers to conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior. They can include but aren’t limited to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.

The survey was conducted on 5,290 households from 236 enumeration areas (EAs) across 14 counties where a total of 5,155 pairs of adolescents and their primary caregiver were interviewed.

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.

The study found that adolescent mental health issues can have immediate and long-term effects on their health and social well-being. The effects may include taking drugs, getting pregnant while young, dropping out of school and engaging in risky behaviour.

The survey discovered that no differences by age or sex were seen for mental health problems overall or mental disorders overall.

For instance anxiety had the highest reported prevalence of 26.2 percent and 27.2 percent respectively of any mental health problem for males and females.

However, there were age and sex differences in the prevalence of specific types of mental health problems and mental disorders.

In regard to mental health problems, anxiety, had the highest prevalence of 26.7 percent of any mental health problem, followed by problems with inattention and hyperactivity at18.2 percent.

Further males had higher prevalence than females in terms of problems with inattention and or hyperactivity with 20.1percent and 16.4 percent) respectively and conduct problems with 10.6 percent and 6.4 percent respectively.

In addition younger adolescents aged 10-13 years had higher prevalence of problems with inattention and/or hyperactivity at 21.3 percent, compared to older adolescents aged 14-17 years with 14.6 percent.

Further, older adolescents had higher prevalence of depression at 9.9 percent and posttraumatic stress at 7.1 percent in comparison to younger adolescents at 4.6 percent and 4.4 percent respectively..

To boot, about two-thirds of those with mental health problems reported some level of impairment due to their respective symptoms.

In regard to mental disorders, males had a higher prevalence of ADHD at 4.7 percent compared to females at 2.3 percent and conduct disorder at 4.0 percent compared to 1.5 percent for females.

Younger adolescents had higher prevalence of ADHD, 4.8 percent, compared to older adolescents, 2.0 percent.

Older adolescents had higher prevalence of major depressive disorder, 3.0 percent, and conduct disorder, 3.6percent, as compared to younger adolescents, 1.2 percent, and 2.1percent, respectively.

The survey found that only 11.1percent of adolescents with a mental health problem had used any service that provides support or counselling for emotional and behavioral problems.

Overall, less than one-tenth of adolescents or 8.7 percent had used services in the past 12 months. Of these adolescents, the majority had accessed services from religious leaders at 34.2 percent and school staff at 31.9 percent while only 10 percent had accessed services from doctors and nurses.

Although adolescents makes nearly a quarter of the Kenyan population is there lack of adequate evidence which inhibits policymakers, practitioners, and researchers from appropriately targeting public health efforts, developing effective service planning, and increasing local and global attention and funding for adolescent mental health, the study noted.

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