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Increase in child and adolescent mental disorders spurs new push for action by UNICEF and WHO

Up to 20 per cent of adolescents globally experience mental disorders

The opening session of the Leading Minds 2019 conference on mental health for children and young people in Sala Brunelleschi at Istituto Degli Innocenti, Florence, Italy.

press release

NEW YORK/GENEVA/FLORENCE, 5 November 2019 – With the alarmingly high rates of self-harm, suicide and anxiety among children and young people around the world, UNICEF and the World Health Organization are teaming up with some of the world’s leading minds to tackle this growing threat.

“Too many children and young people, rich and poor alike, in all four corners of the world, are experiencing mental health conditions,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “This looming crisis has no borders or boundaries. With half of mental disorders starting before age 14, we need urgent and innovative strategies to prevent, detect and, if needed, treat them at an early age.”

Link to the special leading minds website

In a joint push to put child and adolescent mental disorders higher up on the global health agenda, UNICEF and WHO will co-host their first ever conference on the topic in Florence, Italy, 7-9 November. The conference is part of Leading Minds, UNICEF’s new annual global conference series to highlight major issues affecting children and young people in the 21st century. Part of celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the conference will lead to recommendations for decisive action informed by scholars, scientists, governments, philanthropists, business, civil society and young people themselves.

Vikram Patel, Pershing Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, giving his keynote address at the Leading Minds 2019 conference on child and adolescent mental health co-hosted by UNICEF and WHO at the Istituto Degli Innocenti in Florence, Italy.


According to the latest data: 

  • Up to 20 per cent of adolescents globally experience mental disorders.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-19-year-olds worldwide.
  • Around 15 per cent of adolescents in low-and middle-income countries have considered suicide.

The cost of mental disorders is not only personal; it is also societal and economic. And yet, child and adolescent mental health has often been overlooked in global and national health programming. 

“Too few children have access to programmes that teach them how to manage difficult emotions,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “Very few children with mental health conditions have access to the services they need. This must change.”

Leading Minds 2019 will look at the resources, partnerships, services, political commitment and public support needed to promote the mental health of children and young people. The conference will examine the rationale and the results from the state of the science and practice including the latest evidence on brain health in the earliest years of life, through early and middle childhood and adolescence. It will consider gaps in data that need to be addressed as well as programmes that have been successful. It will also interrogate the overall prevalence of mental ill health across ages and geographies, causes and contributing factors, and programmes for preventing and treating disorders and promoting healthy minds.

A breakout session in the Leading Minds 2019 conference on mental health for children and young people in the Bottegha de Raggazi room at Istituto Degli Innocenti, Florence, Italy.


The Leading Minds Conference has been organized with the financial support of the Italian Government through Italian Cooperation for Development.


About the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti 

The Office of Research – Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. It undertakes research on emerging or current issues in order to inform the strategic directions, policies and programmes of UNICEF and its partners, shape global debates on child rights and development, and inform the global research and policy agenda for all children.

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UNICEF and WHO to hold first joint consultation on young people’s mental health
Article Article

UNICEF and WHO to hold first joint consultation on young people’s mental health

(10 October, Florence) – With suicide a leading global cause of death among young people aged 15 to 19, and growing awareness of the scale of mental health disorders among children and young people, on 7-9 November UNICEF and WHO will convene a global consultation on child and adolescent mental health. The consultation, organized by the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti, will be held in Florence and inaugurate the Leading Minds for Children and Young People annual conference on the future of childhood.Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization will co-host the conference, supported by other international organizations and several governments. Leading mental health experts and policy makers from around the world have committed to participate, along with youth leaders, and representatives from government, civil society organizations, foundations, business and the media.Adolescent girls and boys enjoy interacting with each at an adolescent friendly health care corner in Dacope Upazila Health Complex, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Organized as an innovative dialogue, the consultation is designed to spark new ideas, open pathways and accelerate practical solutions for global gaps in young people’s mental health. Young people will be at the forefront of the meeting and will comprise around 40 per cent of the participants. “The world is facing a mental health crisis among its youngest population. This requires a major coordinated global response which is youth-led, evidence- and rights-based,” said Priscilla Idele, Director a.i. of UNICEF Innocenti. A key focus of Leading Minds 2019 is changing the game on mental health and fostering healthy young minds. The consultation will identify the commitments, partnerships and resources required to support proven and promising solutions and breakthroughs for better mental health. Key areas for discussion will include programmes, platforms and systems for service delivery; understanding lived experiences; and exploration of technology and evidence. Leading Minds 2019 aims to generate visibility, break down entrenched stigma around mental health, help inform regional and national policy shifts, bolster resource allocations and galvanize collective action.Worrying dataMental health is emerging from the shadows as an urgent focus of global children's health and well-being. Mental health conditions account for 16 per cent of the global burden of disease and injury among the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents. Three out of four adult mental health problems begin during childhood and adolescence.The theme of World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2019 is suicide prevention. According to 2017 data from the World Health Organization, suicide is among the top five causes of adolescent death globally. And evidence shows that it is just as much a risk for young people in in low- and middle-income countries as it is in rich ones.Download world Mental Health Day "A Day for 40 Seconds of Action" Campaign Flyer Beyond suicide, an array of mental ill health challenges affect many young people. Depression is the leading cause of disability among adolescent girls and the fourth highest cause of disability among adolescent boys. But even as the magnitude of the challenge becomes ever more apparent, so do the gaps in mental health resources, with only one of the WHO’s regions – Europe – having more than 11 mental health workers per 100,000 population, while Africa has less than 1 per 100,000. Leading Minds 2019 will contribute to catalyzing a change in the way the world supports a and promotes healthy young minds, and establish a new blueprint for how to involve young people alongside adults to co-create solutions with them on the issues that affect them. The key outcomes of the consultation will be synthesized and form the basis of UNICEF’s annual flagship report, The State of the World’s Children, which in 2020 will focus on the theme of child and adolescent mental health. For more information about the Leading Minds conference at UNICEF Innocenti please contact:    

Unicef Research Blogs

(2019-10-10) With suicide and self-harm now leading causes of death and injury among young people between 15 to 19 years, UNICEF and WHO are coming together for the first time at the& ...


Leading Minds 2019 Conference Programme, 7 November 2019
Participants list
Leading Minds 2019 Participant List