Adolescents left behind by migrant workers: a call for community-based mental health interventions in Nepal

WHO South East Asia J Public Health. 2019 Apr;8(1):38-41. doi: 10.4103/2224-3151.255348.


Over the past two decades, the unique health needs associated with the second decade of life have been recognized, not least the mental health of adolescents. In parallel, the negative health impacts of parental migration on the children and adolescents who are "left behind" in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is beginning to be acknowledged. Nepal is a growing supplier of labour migrants - an estimated 3.5 million Nepali individuals are working abroad - resulting in families being separated and thousands of adolescents being left behind. This can increase psychological and emotional stress and feelings of loneliness and abandonment, and reduce self-esteem among left-behind adolescents, which in turn may have a negative impact on their psychosocial health. Globally, mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders are one of the top three causes of disability-adjusted life-years lost among adolescents. The devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015 brought into sharp focus the lack of prioritization of mental health services and spurred development of the Community mental health care package Nepal, 2074 in 2017. This package, together with the upcoming revised National Mental Health Policy, emphasizes the need to (i) ensure the availability and accessibility of basic mental health and psychosocial support services for all; and (ii) facilitate integration of mental health services into the primary health-care system. Recognizing that mental health and psychosocial support services have been predominantly focused on the adult population only, the package includes a component on childhood and adolescent mental and behavioural disorders. It will be essential for policy-makers to ensure that strategies are in place to ensure that left-behind adolescents, especially those who are not in school, have access to these community-based services. Given the paucity of research on mental health interventions among adolescents in LMICs in general, monitoring and assessment of what works for this special group of young people in Nepal may have broader implications for implementation in other countries where migration has resulted in significant populations of left-behind adolescents.

Keywords: Asia; adolescents; developing countries; left behind; migration; stress; young people.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child, Abandoned / statistics & numerical data*
  • Community Mental Health Services / methods
  • Community Mental Health Services / standards*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Nepal
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Transients and Migrants / statistics & numerical data*