50% of all mental health disorders start by age 14: WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently updated its fact sheet on adolescent and young adult health.

Key Messages:

Over 1.5 million adolescents and young adults aged 10–24 years died in 2020, nearly 5000 every day.

Young adolescents aged 10–14 years have the lowest risk of death of all age groups. However, the average global probability of a 10-year-old dying before age 24 was 6 times higher in sub-Saharan Africa than in North America and Europe.

Injuries (including road traffic injuries and drowning), violence, self-harm and maternal conditions are the leading causes of death among adolescents and young adults.

In 2019, nearly 100 000 adolescents (10–19 years) died as a result of road traffic accidentsMany of those who died were vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, cyclists or users of motorized two-wheelers.

Drowning is also among the top causes of death among adolescents; more than 40 000 adolescents, over three quarters of them boys, are estimated to have drowned in 2019.

Interpersonal violence is among the leading causes of death in adolescents and young people globally. According to the global school-based student health survey 42% of adolescent boys and 37% of adolescent girls were exposed to bullying. Sexual violence also affects a significant proportion of youth: 1 in 8 young people report sexual abuse.

Half of all mental health disorders in adulthood start by age 14, but most cases are undetected and untreated. Depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents, and suicide is the second leading cause of death in people aged 15–19 years. Mental health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of disease and injury in people aged 10–19 years.

Early onset of substance use is associated with higher risks of developing dependence and other problems during adult life, and people of younger ages are disproportionately affected by substance use compared with people of older ages.

Worldwide, more than a quarter of all people aged 15–19 years are current drinkers, amounting to 155 million adolescents. Prevalence of heavy episodic drinking among adolescents aged 15­–19 years was 13.6% in 2016, with males most at risk.

Cannabis is the most widely used psychoactive drug among young people with about 4.7% of people aged 15–16 years using it at least once in 2018.

Globally, at least 1 in 10 adolescents aged 13–15 years uses tobacco, although there are areas where this figure is much higher.

An estimated 1.7 million adolescents (age 10–19 years) were living with HIV in 2019 with around 90% in the WHO African Region. An estimated 1.7 million adolescents (age 10–19 years) were living with HIV in 2019 with around 90% in the WHO African Region. Adolescents living with HIV have worse access to antiretroviral treatment, adherence to treatment, retention in care and viral suppression. 

Diarrhoea and lower respiratory tract infections (pneumonia) are estimated to be among the top 10 causes of death for adolescents 10–14 years.

Early adolescence (9–14 years) is the optimal time for vaccination against HPV infection and it is estimated that if 90% of girls globally get the HPV vaccine more than 40 million lives could be saved over the next century. However, it is estimated that in 2019 only 15% of girls globally received the vaccine.

Globally, there were 41 births per 1000 to girls aged 15–19 years in 2020. Approximately 12 million girls aged 15–19 years and at least 777 000 girls under 15 years give birth each year in developing regions. Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are among the leading causes of death for girls aged 15–19 years globally.

Iron deficiency anaemia was the second leading cause of years lost by adolescents to death and disability in 2019.

Many boys and girls in developing countries enter adolescence undernourished, making them more vulnerable to disease and early death. At the other end of the spectrum, the number of adolescents who are overweight or obese is increasing in low-, middle- and high-income countries.

Globally, in 2016, over 1 in 6 adolescents aged 10–19 years was overweight. 

 WHO recommends for adolescents to accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity on average per day across the week, which may include play, games, sports, but also activity for transportation (such as cycling and walking), or physical education.

Globally, only 1 in 5 adolescents are estimated to meet these guidelines. Prevalence of inactivity is high across all WHO regions, and higher in female adolescents as compared to male adolescents.

Useful Links:

Link to the WHO factsheet on adolescent and young adult health:


Link to WHO factsheet on adolescent mental health:


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