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Protecting adolescent mental health offers lifelong health and economic benefits

Study findings set out a globally representative case for investing in interventions to treat and prevent poor mental health among adolescents

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Mental disorders, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, and suicide, are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality among adolescents. An estimated 75% of lifetime mental disorders appear before the age of 24, and yet, access to mental health services remains insufficient for adolescents, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries.

Published in BMJ Global Health, researchers at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, developed an investment case for applying evidence-based interventions to prevent and treat mental health disorders among adolescents. Its research findings illustrated that such interventions could result in improved lifelong health in adulthood and economic benefits for nations worldwide.

RTI researchers developed a model that projected that for every $1 invested in the full set of interventions to prevent and treat anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide among adolescents, $24 in health and economic benefits would be returned to the global economy over the course of 80 years. The highest returns on investment (ROIs) came from low and lower-middle income countries, which suggests the particular promise of scaling up interventions in these contexts.

“Our research models showed that interventions to protect the mental health of adolescents are effective and economically beneficial to young people dealing with mental disorders and the countries they live in,” said Rachel Nugent, Ph.D., study author and vice president of RTI’s Center for Global Noncommunicable Diseases. “Such positive outcomes warrant governments and funders across the world to examine investing in how these interventions can be successfully implemented at scale in low- and middle-income countries across the globe.”

The RTI model also revealed that male and female adolescents saw similar ROIs within each country and did not vary much by the starting age of the adolescents. This lack of variation suggests that although early intervention allows for a larger gross improvement in health outcomes, older adolescents still benefit from even short intervention in late adolescence.

This economic modelling study followed cohorts of adolescents, ages 10-19, from 36 countries to assess the impact of addressing anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide during adolescence on health, educational, and economic outcomes through their lives. It estimated the costs of interventions using an ingredients-based approach and modeled impacts on education and employment and the resulting economic, morbidity, and mortality benefits.

“Evidence indicates that young people’s mental health has been impacted worldwide in recent decades. The investment case clearly shows the importance of early intervention and investing in the support, treatment, and prevention of mental ill health among adolescents,” said Ashling Mulvaney, VP Sustainability, Access to Healthcare at AstraZeneca. “Stakeholders should consider the needs of young people and work in partnership with them to implement effective interventions.”

RTI's Center for Global Noncommunicable Diseases developed this globally representative investment case for investment in mental health among adolescents and published its findings in BMJ Global Health, a peer-reviewed medical trade journal, published by the trade union the British Medical Association.

Funding for this work was provided by AstraZeneca’s Young Health Programme.

Read the full journal article