Youth First Kenya


Projections indicate that by 2030, mental illness will pose the greatest threat to economic growth among all non-communicable diseases. At least one in seven youth in Sub-Saharan Africa face mental health problems and approximately one in ten have a diagnosable mental illness. Mental health concerns among youth are further fueled by systems of entrenched inequities, discrimination, and resource scarcity, exacerbated by a lack of access to services.

Kenya’s youth are no exception: the Kenyan government recently called mental health a “ticking time bomb,” yet found no widely-available mental health prevention and promotion services in Kenya. The impacts of poor mental health amongst Kenyan youth can be seen in nearly all aspects of their daily lives, including rising alcohol and drug misuse, gender-based violence, teenage pregnancies, increasing gambling, and school dropout – all of which contribute to a perpetual cycle of poverty, poor mental and physical health, and violence.

Youth First Kenya Responds

Youth First Kenya is a teacher-facilitated, school-based program in Kenya that draws from the latest research in resilience, Positive Psychology, and Social-Emotional Learning, in which potential risks or threats to wellbeing are addressed by boosting internal assets and external supports.

The program seeks to build social and emotional assets, such as coping skills, character strengths, and positive self-regard, as well as improve adolescent health. Students who are well equipped with such internal resources coupled with stronger external supports, have been shown to experience increased agency, reduced rates of depression, have improved social skills, remain in and become more engaged at school, and perform better academically.

Youth First Kenya also focuses on teacher engagement and wellbeing, and addresses issues of gender equality, gender relations, and gender rights.

"I can now listen to people. I know that I can now set a goal and achieve it. I’ve learned the importance of education and studying. Overall, I feel happy because of Youth First. It’s opening doors for me and giving me courage."

Youth First Scale-up

After successful pilots of Youth First Kenya in Kajiado and Tharaka Nithi counties, conducted in 2018 amongst nomadic (Maasai) and rural populations, WorldBeing, in partnership with our local NGO partner, BasicNeeds BasicRights Kenya, entered into an extensive multi-year agreement with the Kenya Ministry of Education to scale and institutionalize Youth First Kenya nationwide. At scale, over 20,000 government junior secondary schools, 40,000 teachers, and 1.2 million youth annually will participate in the program.

In 2023, 85,821 students in 640 schools across Kenya received the Youth First program. The program was facilitated by 1,150 trained teachers.

This project represents a catalytic step to universalize mental health and wellbeing programming for youth in Kenya, so that no matter their background, identity, situation, or geography, youth will be able to access the skills for thriving. Once institutionalized, Kenya will represent one of the first Low-and Middle-Income Countries to offer such school-based programs nationally.

With the proven tools and strategies to increase adolescent wellbeing, we are working to address the mental health crisis and support Kenyan youth to thrive. Let’s work together to give youth the tools they need to navigate challenges and build brighter futures.

Program Results

In a 2018 pre/post intervention evaluation of Youth First Kenya, findings indicated a number of positive outcomes such as:        

  • Resilience increased by 21%
  • Social wellbeing increased by 9.9% 
  • Self-efficacy increased by 7.9%

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