UNICEF and WHO to hold first conference on young people’s mental health

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original
© UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi


(10 October, Florence) – With suicide as a leading cause of death among 15 to 19 years old’s globally, and growing awareness of the significant gaps in mental health services for children and young people, UNICEF and WHO will convene a global conference on child and adolescent mental health. The 7-9 November consultation, organized by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, will take place in Florence and inaugurate the Leading Minds for Children annual conference on the future of childhood.

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization will jointly convene the inaugural Leading Minds 2019 conference, the first ever global consultation hosted by the two UN organizations on this subject. The conference will be led by arguably the two UN agencies most entrusted with children’s health, and many leading mental health experts and policy makers have committed to participation.

Young people will be fully at the forefront of the meeting. Young mental health advocates and innovators will make up 40% of the participants. Organized as an innovative dialogue, the conference is specially designed to spark new ideas, open pathways and accelerate practical solutions to global gaps in children and young people’s mental health.

“The world is facing a mental health crisis among its youngest population. This requires a major coordinated global response which is youth-led, evidence- and rights-based,” said Priscilla Idele, Director a.i. of UNICEF Innocenti.

Emphasis will be on programmes, partnerships and collaboration, resources, young people’s voices, delivery platforms, technology and evidence. Discussions will be organized around four priority themes: youth engagement, community-based services, improving evidence, strategic partnership. Leading Minds 2019 aims to generate visibility, break down entrenched stigma around mental health, help inform regional and national policy shifts, bolster resource allocations and galvanize collective action.


According to WHO data, suicide is the third leading cause of adolescent death globally. An alarming proportion of teenagers – 5-10 per cent in high-income countries, 15 per cent in low- and middle-income countries and 1 in 3 in a few countries – attempt suicide. Mental health is emerging from the shadows as an urgent focus of global children's health and well-being, as efforts shift from children surviving to children thriving. The theme of World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2019, is suicide prevention.

Beyond the serious threat that suicide poses for the world’s adolescents a variety of mental ill health challenges significantly affect young people. Depression is the leading cause of disability among adolescent girls and the fourth highest cause of disability among adolescent boys.

WHO estimates that mental health conditions account for around 16 per cent of the global burden of disease and injury among adolescents (10-19 years). Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14 but most cases are undiagnosed and untreated.

It is expected that Leading Minds 2019 will contribute to improved partnership between WHO and UNICEF towards addressing the mental health of young people and establish a new blueprint for how to involve young people alongside adults to co-create solutions for the issues that affect them.

The key outcomes of the consultation will be synthesized and will inform the next UNICEF’s flagship report, the State of the World’s Children, which in 2020 will focus on the theme of child and adolescent mental health.

For more information about the Leading Minds conference at UNICEF Innocenti please contact: