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Teen Health

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Study: Mental Health Is Top Concern for Youth

Researchers Say Injuries and Infectious Diseases Are Also Among Top Medical Problems for Youth
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 6, 2011 -- The years from middle childhood to young adulthood, often viewed as some of the healthiest, are not always, according to a new global report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

In the report, researchers find three main causes of disability in those ages 10 through 24, says researcher Colin Mathers, PhD, a scientist at WHO in Geneva. The top three are neuropsychiatric disorders, unintentional injuries, and infectious and parasitic diseases.

The report refutes the stereotype of a carefree childhood and youth. "It highlights that disability, particularly due to mental health disorders and drug and alcohol problems, are a big problem for adolescents, as are injuries and death due particularly to motor vehicle accidents," Mathers tells WebMD. "This is also a period when young people are adopting behaviors such as smoking, poor diet, and inadequate exercise which will lead to substantial problems in later life."

The report is published online in The Lancet.

Medical Problems of Young People

"This is the first time we have looked in depth at this age range," Mathers tells WebMD.

Researchers used data from the 2004 Global Burden of Disease for the study. They estimated the future impact of health and mental health problems as well as accidents and other problems on the youth.

They compute that by using what they called DALYS -- disability adjusted life-years. This measure takes into account estimates of both years of life lost due to premature deaths and years lost due to disability that are due to specific risk factors, such as depression.

Worldwide, the three main causes of years lost due to disability for the entire age range, 10 to 24, and their contribution, were:

  • Neuropsychiatric disorders: 45%
  • Unintentional injuries: 12%
  • Infectious and parasitic diseases: 10%

Mental health problems included depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance misuse, and other problems.

Unintentional injuries include road traffic crashes and other accidents.

Infectious diseases include sexually transmitted infections, respiratory infections, and parasitic infections, among others.

The major risk factors that lead to the disabilities include alcohol use, unsafe sex, iron deficiency, lack of contraception, and illicit drug use.

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