Photograph — Huffingtonpost

As the awareness of mental illness gains traction around the world this week, research is showing the fatal effect of this silent killer amongst a vulnerable generation of youths. As technology advances and the fragmentation of the human natural space continues to be replaced by machines, mental illness in has risen to be the number one cause of teen deaths around the world.

Teen deaths have increased tremendously in the last decade, accounting for the cause of over 38 percent teen women in Canada. According to a 2014 WHO report, in the United States, suicide eclipsed maternal mortality as the leading cause of death in girls ages 15-19 in the developing world. While the causes of the sudden impression of the need to ends one’s life remains debatable, there is no doubt that the technological advancement, the industrial evolution of our once natural environments and the pressure that filters in through the use of internet are root causes of the increase in such kind of deaths.

A researcher at the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research in the United States, Arielle Sheftall, while asking that more research be conducted into the role played by age and gender in the increase of mental illness-related suicide, noted that the increase might not be unconnected from the fact that  the puberty age is getting younger while the ability of the teens to fight puberty-related psychiatric disorders like depression is almost non-existent at such young ages.

Commenting on the possible causes of the increase in teen death especially among teen girls, Dr Suzanne Petroni, the senior director for gender, population and development at the International Centre for Research on Women, opines “that lack of opportunity and rigid gender roles” are possible factors that could be influencing such high rate of young female suicides in developing countries.

She went on to mention sexism and stereotypes of what they should and cannot be, and harmful gender perceptions and norms as other things which could be behind the recent surge. In both sexes, it is evident that a demand for perfection from the ever-changing present technological society is a major cause of mental illness-related deaths. A study in Canada shows that heavy social media use is associated with poorer mental health. Pressure for perfection and the stress that accompanies it are often generated through the filtered and altered realities encountered by teens on the internet. Failure to meet up with such reality in real life has led many teens to depression and suicidal thoughts.

In Africa, mental illness is not as discussed as in other parts of the world due to low awareness and the stigma societies have ascribed to such topic. In a country like Nigeria where open discussion of the dangers of mental illness even in the face of increased teen suicides is not encouraged, teens stand twice the risk of mental illness as their counterparts in other parts of the world. Witchcraft would more likely be blamed as the cause of teen suicide rather than mental illness in this part of the world.

Mental illness is curable, it is preventable even. Better education would correct the discrimination often meted out on victims in Africa.

At a time when the prevailing economic recession, violent crimes, terrorist attacks are ravaging the country, there is no better time for an increased and serious awareness of mental illness in Nigeria than now.

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