August 12, 2019

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By Eoin Killackey


On International Youth Day, Eóin Killackey outlines a new undertaking to make youth mental health a global priority. Consulting with experts and stakeholders around the world, the Global Youth Mental Health Framework project will provide guidance for funders about the costs of investing, and the costs of not investing, in youth mental health. It also aims to produce a youth mental health care framework that is responsive to local needs, and a toolkit to help communities all over the world advocate for youth mental health services.


In the past, the greatest health challenge for young people was to survive childhood. Thankfully, in most of the world this is no longer the case. However, the big health issue now for young people is mental health. Several studies have shown that half of mental illness has its onset by age 14 and three quarters by age 25. Further, in many parts of the world, suicide is the largest cause of death for young people. And yet in most countries, there is a divide in mental health care at about age 18. This divide, which makes sense in physical health, makes no sense when the epidemiology of mental illness is considered. It further does not take into account the biological and social development that occurs across the period of life from ages 12–25, or the impact of mental ill-health on these developmental processes, from which much of the disability associated with mental ill-health arises.

In addition to its personal toll, mental ill-health is the most economically costly non-communicable illness. Partly this is because mental ill-health commonly strikes just as young people are emerging into adulthood. Young people with mental illness often do not complete education or make the transition into the workforce – with up to 25% of young people experiencing mental illness, this is a massive economic loss to any society.

Approaches to youth mental health have been developing for a number of years. Now, Orygen the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia has partnered with the World Economic Forum on a project to put youth mental health on the global health agenda.

The 12-month project, running from January 2019 through to the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in January 2020, will have four outcomes:

1. A globally adaptable framework of youth mental health care

This will be developed in consultation with international experts and young people, and with sufficient flexibility so that it can be adapted and implemented across a range of cultural, funding and resource settings. Specifically, the model will provide a platform for the public and private sector, as well as civil society, to work collaboratively to deliver evidence-based youth mental health care within a local context.

2. An investment framework

This framework will indicate the level of public and private investment required, across a range of countries with different income levels, to ensure optimal mental health outcomes for young people and their families.

3. An economic briefing for governments

This will highlight the broader benefits to both government and the community of investing in youth mental health, the economic impacts of early intervention and its wider influence on civil society. It will also seek to make plain the economic consequences of not investing in youth mental health.

4. A toolkit

This will support local advocates of youth mental health in their efforts to engage the public and private sectors and make the case for local investment in youth mental health care.


The project team consists of:

Craig Hodges – Global Project Lead

Vivienne Browne – Policy Lead

Ella Gow – Youth Participation Lead

Eóin Killackey – Academic Lead

Peter Varnum – Representing the World Economic Forum


The project team has been conducting consultations to inform the framework with young people, families, academics, economists, public servants and clinicians from North America, Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and Australia and New Zealand.

Work to date has informed the draft framework, which is currently being refined before being circulated for comment. The project is now switching focus to the development of the policy, economic and advocacy components. As a first step in this, the team will be conducting a national roundtable in Melbourne on August 14. This will precede other consultations in Africa and North America in September.

Across the globe all cultures value their young people and desire to see them reach their full potential. Mental ill-heath threatens the realisation of this potential, but we know that with good care this need not be the case. The Orygen – World Economic Forum partnership is seeking to provide a means for individuals, communities and government to own the solution and create better futures for all young people affected by mental illness.