Teenage mental health crisis in the US, plus other health stories you need to read this week

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Shyam Bishen, Head, Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, Member of Executive Committee, World Economic Forum

  • This global round-up brings you health stories from the past seven days.
  • Top health stories: a dramatic rise in mental health issues among teenagers in the US; Equatorial Guinea confirms Marburg virus outbreak; the UN says pollution is worsening the global superbug problem.

1. Survey reveals mental health crisis among teenage girls in US

Nearly three in five high-school girls in the US reported feeling sad or hopeless in 2021, representing a 60% rise since 2011, according to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 57% of the female students confirmed “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness”, up from 36% a decade before. For male students, the figure rose to 29% from 21% during the same time period.

There was improvement for adolescents in some areas, such as risky sexual behaviour, substance abuse and bullying. However, mental health and suicidal thoughts as well as experiences of violence worsened, the data showed. One in five teenage girls experienced sexual violence, up 20% since 2017, when the CDC started monitoring this measure.

High school should be a time for trailblazing, not trauma. These data show our kids need far more support to cope, hope, and thrive,” said Debra Houry, CDC’s Chief Medical Officer.

Overall, 42% of high-school students felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row that they stopped doing their usual activities. The study found that 22% of teenagers had considered attempting suicide in the past year, of which female students accounted for more than twice that of male students.

2. Equatorial Guinea confirms Marburg virus outbreak

Equatorial Guinea has confirmed its first outbreak of the Marburg virus, a highly infectious and deadly disease similar to Ebola, following the deaths of at least nine people, the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed. More than 200 people were quarantined and movement was restricted last week in Kie-Ntem province after reports that an unknown illness was causing hemorrhagic fever.

Reuters reports that authorities have restricted movement around the two villages that are directly linked, and contact tracing is ongoing. Symptoms of Marburg virus include fever, fatigue and blood-stained vomit and diarrhoea.

The outbreak was reported on 7 February, and the deaths were linked to people who all took part in a funeral ceremony, the health ministry said. Neighbouring Cameroon has also restricted movement along its border over concerns about contagion.

3. News in brief: Health stories from around the world

The World Health Organization has described the Turkiye-Syria earthquakes as the worst natural disaster in a century in its European region. The United Nations health agency says it has launched an initial $43 million appeal to support the two countries struck by the earthquake on February 6.

A quarter of Ukraine’s population is at risk of developing a severe mental health condition because of the country’s conflict with Russia, according to a senior health official. The World Health Organization (WHO) “estimates that at this time, one out of four people in Ukraine is at risk of severe mental health conditions,” Michel Kazatchkine, who serves as special adviser to the WHO’s Regional Office for Europe, said.

Superbugs are a leading global health risk made worse by pollution in key sectors of the economy, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme. As many as 10 million people could die every year by 2050 due to antimicrobial resistance, (AMR) it says.

The death toll from a cholera outbreak in Malawi has crossed 1,300, with the country recording an average of 500 cases a day. The WHO says Malawi’s current outbreak is the deadliest on record, worse than in 2001/2002 when 968 people died.

Scientists in the United States have developed an AI-powered chest scan to predict the risk of lung cancer up to six years in advance, the Good News Network reports. Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in the world and is difficult to detect using conventional scans.

The US government has agreed to buy 1.5 million more doses of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine. The deal comes even as Washington plans to end its pandemic emergency declarations in May, nearly three years after it imposed sweeping measures to curb the spread of the virus.

The recent spread to mammals of H5N1 influenza – commonly known as bird flu – needs to be monitored, but the risk to humans remains low, the WHO says. H5N1 has spread among poultry and wild birds for 25 years, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters, but the recent reports of infections in mink, otters and sealions “need to be monitored closely”, he said.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about mental health?

One in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental ill-health is the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10–24 years, contributing up to 45% of the overall burden of disease in this age-group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health care within the lifespan and across all the stages of illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for health promotion and disease management on mental health.

One of the current key priorities is to support global efforts toward mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations toward achieving the global targets on mental health, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Read more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare, and contact us to get involved.

4. More on health from Agenda

The 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity per week recommended by the US Department of Health and Human Services can significantly reduce liver fat, according to new research. A meta-analysis of 14 previous studies confirms that exercise leads to clinically meaningful reductions in liver fat for patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Researchers are looking into whether a genetic element can explain why some people haven’t caught COVID-19. Lindsay Broadbent, Lecturer in Virology at the University of Surrey, explains that understanding the reasons people may be immune to a particular virus could also help prevent future infections.

Researchers have developed a low-cost sensing glove that can be used during birth to help identify problems. It provides real-time data via an app on how a birth is progressing and could help improve birth outcomes in low-resource regions.

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