Scoping an intervention in youth mental health support in the Global South


Mental health disorders have a lifetime prevalence of 30% and are the leading causes of disability worldwide. There is an increasing need for mental health care as vulnerable populations expand, yet only 9 mental health providers are available per 100,000 people globally. It is estimated an extra 1.7 million mental health workers are needed in low- and middle- income countries alone. Dedicated youth-oriented mental health services are especially rare, even though 75% of mental health disorders occur before the age of 18 years. Left untreated, these conditions have serious detrimental effects on young people’s developmental progress, family life and educational achievement, with long-term risks for poor health, social marginalisation and unemployment in adulthood. COVID-19 has increased threats to mental ill health and exacerbated pre-existing global inequalities in access to adequate care. Addressing these challenges is essential to achieving post-COVID recovery, given the close links between youth mental health, social disability and economic development.

A recent public engagement event, “Lockdown Live”, hosted by the UoS and the Youth Café, a pan-African NGO, highlighted the importance of mental health to young people’s experiences in the pandemic and recovery from its aftermath. Four weekly online meetings in July 2020 (garnering a total of 105,000 views) brought together 54 youth participants from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Rwanda, the UK and Kenya to discuss pressing issues affecting youth in global and local contexts during the pandemic. Of the four weekly topics (learning in lockdown, COVID-related mis/disinformation, post-COVID futures and youth mental health), the mental health content generated the highest level of engagement. As well as a 45% increase in online participation, the mental health session revealed shared concern among discussants about the relevance of conventional “expert-led” approaches, alongside strong interest in pursuing contextually-sensitive solutions that draw from the perspectives of young people and their communities.

The project will build directly on this successful youth-engagement platform, led by the established partnership between the University of Sussex and Youth Café Kenya. 

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project examined the following SDGs:

    SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-being
    SDG 4 – Quality Education
    SDG 5 – Gender Equality
    SDG 10  Reduced Inequalities
    SDG 16  Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions 
    SDG 17  Partnerships for the Goals

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Project description

An interdisciplinary team drawing from BSMS, Psychology, Global Studies, IDS and English will provide globally networked, interdisciplinary expertise in youth experience and engagement; adolescent mental health (especially in low-income and ODA nations); clinical research methodologies; delivering interventions in low- and middle-income nations; digital ‘e-health’; and social recovery. The Sussex-based team will partner with the Youth Café to identify and develop a scalable psychosocial intervention that can be delivered to its constituency of 50 000 youth members, extending the youth-led Youth Café model that currently focuses on issues of social equity, democratic governance, economic viability and sustainable development. The project will examine opportunities for scaling up an intervention through the Youth Café’s well-established network of partner NGOs across the Global South, which focus on health, education and democracy in relation to young people under the age of twenty-five.

Co-PI, Emma Newport (MAH) is Director of Sussex Writes, which uses creative methodologies to strengthen community engagement, raise attainment, and work co-creatively with marginalised and disadvantaged groups, including helping young people develop psychosocial and interpersonal and employability skills, for which she received the Sussex Better World Award (2020). Co-PI Willice Onyango is Executive Director of the Youth Café, a multi award-
winning Pan-African youth organization based in Kenya. He has served as global youth representative to the UN High Level Panel of Eminent Persons; in the African Union Working Group on Food Security and Demographic Dividend; and as director of International Youth Council, Kenya. Having presented at the 68th UN General Assembly, World Bank Youth Forum, the African Union Heads of States’ Summit, he is well-placed for advocating for policy change. As columnist for The Star Newspaper, The Standard Newspaper, Huffington Post, Open Democracy, and the World Economic Forum, Onyango will have an active role in public dissemination.

The Co-investigators provide expertise in mental health delivery and research methodologies in global/ODA contexts. 

This project will scope and produce a blueprint for online mental health support for young people in ODA nations, developed in partnership with a leading youth-centred NGO and co-created with youth participants, to prepare for future delivery of a pilot study.

Timeline and funding


January 2021-July 2021


SSRP-IDCF funding

The team

Where we worked