Message of Dr. Natalia Kanem Executive Director of UNFPA on World Mental Health Day 10 October 2018

10 October 2018

Today on World Mental Health Day, UNFPA calls for strengthened action to provide services for the mental health of young people. 

A safe and healthy passage from adolescence into adulthood is the right of everyone. Yet young people face risks and pressures from poverty and insecurity to pervasive – often invasive – online technologies. In this changing world, young people’s mental health is too often neglected. Depression is a leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15- to 29-year-olds worldwide. 

Together we must do better. On their journey to adulthood, adolescents need supportive relationships and services, including comprehensive sexuality education, to develop positive self-esteem and self-care and to make informed and healthy decisions. 

Today too many young people face stigma, discrimination and violence due to their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability or other status. Globally, one in every five girls is married, or in union, before the age of 18. Around 15 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced forced sex in their lifetime.  The situation is even worse for millions of young people living in areas of conflict and humanitarian crises. Post-traumatic stress and depression multiply the injustices they face and add to the burden of unwanted pregnancy, HIV infection and unsafe abortion. 

To tackle these issues, we at UNFPA and our partners promote mental health and psychosocial support, especially in emergency settings. Creating safe spaces, where survivors of sexual and gender-based violence can receive the services they need, promotes safety, healing and resilience. In 2017, UNFPA supported 725 safe spaces for women, girls and young people in 50 countries affected by emergencies. 

As one refugee woman said upon arrival at a UNFPA safe space in Bangladesh: “I walked a long time to reach this ‘peace house’, not for food, not for medicine, but to find peace in my heart, so I can go on with my life.”

For her and countless others, these spaces offer life-saving support, time to heal, dignity and peace of mind. For women and girls subjected to violence, this healing must go hand-in-hand with justice and an end to impunity for perpetrators.


Today, we call on all Governments and partners to integrate mental health and psychosocial support across their efforts to respond to humanitarian crises, build peace and achieve sustainable development. 

There is no health without mental health. It is a human right and central to human dignity.  Let’s end the stigma surrounding mental health, and above all, let’s act.