Low and middle income countries (LMICs) not only have the majority of the world's population but also the largest proportion of youth. Poverty, civil conflict and environmental stressors tend to be endemic in these countries and contribute to significant psychiatric morbidity, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, mental health data from LMICs is scarce, particularly data on youth. Evaluation of such information is crucial for planning services and reducing the burden of disability. This paper reviews the published data on the prevalence and randomized trials of interventions for depression, anxiety and PTSD in youth in LMICs.
PubMed and Google Scholar were searched for articles published in English up to January 2017, using the keywords: Low/middle income country, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, child, youth, adolescent, prevalence, treatment, intervention, and outcomes.
The few prevalence studies in LMICs reported rates of up to 28% for significant symptoms of depression or anxiety among youth, and up to 87% for symptoms of PTSD among youth exposed to traumatic experienences, though these rates varied widely depending on several factors, including the assessments tools used. Most rigorous interventions employed some form or variation of CBT, with mixed results. Studies using other forms of psychosocial interventions appear to be heterogeneous and less rigorous.
The mental health burden due to depression and anxiety disorders in youth is substantial in LMICs, with high needs but inadequate services. Youth specific services for early detection and cost-effective interventions are needed.