Every school student in the US state of Florida is to be taught about mental and emotional health to help them recognize and seek help for problems that are affecting a growing number of teenagers worldwide.

One in five children in the US has a diagnosable mental health condition but only 15% of those in need of treatment receive it, according to Eliot Brenner, president of the Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut.

Florida’s Board of Education has mandated a minimum five hours of compulsory teaching per year for students aged between 11 and 18. Lessons will focus on signs and symptoms, how to get help for yourself and others and what to do and say when peers are in distress.

“It’s no secret that mental illness robs students of the ability to reach their full potential, and we are joining forces to combat this disease and give our students the tools they need to thrive,” said Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

Percentage of young people in the US who had a major depressive episode in the past year from 2004 to 2017, by gender
Percentage of young people in the US who had a major depressive episode in the past year from 2004 to 2017, by gender
Image: Statista

A global problem

The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide up to 20% of young people aged 10 to 19 suffer from mental health issues, accounting for almost one-fifth of the global burden of disease and injury in that age group.

Half of all mental health conditions start by 14 but most cases are undetected and untreated. Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.

The consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives. Mental health promotion and prevention are key to helping adolescents thrive, says the WHO.

$16 trillion catastrophe

In a White Paper titled Empowering 8 Billion Minds: Enabling Better Mental Health for All via the Ethical Adoption of Technologies, the World Economic Forum says the burden of mental health on global society is “both catastrophic and growing.”

Almost two-thirds of lost workdays in the US are caused by mental illness, according to the report, which says inaction on mental illness is expected to cost the global economy $16 trillion in the 20-year period ending in 2030.

Suicide, which claims 900,000 lives each year, is the second largest cause of death among people aged between 15 and 29. The report forecasts that mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and schizophrenia will be the leading global cause of death by 2030.