Unraveling the Complexities of Adolescent Mental Health: A Comparative Study in Kenya, Indonesia, and Vietnam


New research from The University of Queensland’s School of Public Health and the Queensland Center for Mental Health Research reveals significant differences in the prevalence of mental disorders among adolescents in Kenya, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The study, published in The Lancet journal, underscores the importance of collecting country-specific data to better understand adolescent mental health in diverse cultural contexts.

Associate Professor Holly Erskine led the National Adolescent Mental Health Surveys (NAMHS), which involved thousands of adolescents and their primary caregivers. The findings revealed that nearly one in eight adolescents in Kenya had a mental disorder in the 12 months preceding the survey, while the figure was one in eighteen in Indonesia and one in thirty in Vietnam.

Erskine emphasized that these findings challenge the assumption that all low- and middle-income countries share similar mental health profiles. “The NAMHS data demonstrates that mental health prevalence in adolescents varies significantly across countries, even within similar regions,” she said.

The study also highlighted the need for further investigation into potential cultural and societal factors that may influence mental health outcomes in these countries. “We need to explore the role of family and community cohesion, and more authoritative parenting styles in shaping adolescent mental health in Kenya, Indonesia, and Vietnam,” Erskine added.

NAMHS also collected extensive data on risk and protective factors for adolescent mental disorders, providing valuable insights into the prevalence findings. The survey results showed that adolescents with mental disorders in all three countries were more likely to engage in suicidal behaviors and self-harm compared to those without mental disorders.

Erskine emphasized the importance of targeted strategies to prevent suicide and self-harm among adolescents with mental disorders. “Our findings underscore the need for early intervention and prevention initiatives to address the unique mental health challenges faced by adolescents in these countries,” she said.

Professor James Scott from UQ’s Child Health Research Center praised the innovative nature of NAMHS, which developed methods for conducting high-quality nationally representative surveys across different countries and cultures. “The collaboration between teams from five countries was crucial in adapting the questionnaires and establishing a methodology suitable for all three countries and future surveys in other regions,” he said.

The involvement of local organizations in Kenya, Indonesia, and Vietnam was essential to the study’s success, given their expertise in understanding their country’s unique cultural and geographic factors and administering the survey in their context.

With Africa and Southeast Asia hosting some of the youngest populations globally, this research will help governments and health organizations plan and prioritize adolescent mental health services more effectively and inform prevention and early intervention initiatives.

1.  Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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