Getting Help is Essential for Youth Mental Health

Adolescents struggling with emotional, social and behavioral challenges are not alone. One in five adolescents has a mental health disorder that causes impairment, and 1 in 3 have considered suicide.

Pregnant and parenting adolescents, youth living in humanitarian and fragile settings, those who are vulnerable to stigma or discrimination, and those from minority ethnic and sexual communities are particularly at risk. Psychologists are working to change that.

Getting help

Getting help is essential for youth mental health. Psychologists are promoting the importance of treatment, and collaborating with peers to connect youth to services. They are also helping to educate families about the signs and symptoms of mental disorders, so they can recognize when their children need professional help.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for behavioral health services has increased for many young people. They are facing social isolation, loss of routines and traumatic stress that can lead to depression and anxiety. In addition, suicide remains the second leading cause of death for young people in our country.

OK2TALK is a community for teens and young adults to share their stories of recovery, tragedy or hope in a safe and moderated space. They can also access helpful resources like self-care tools, peer support groups and local helplines. The Health Information Tool for Empowerment (HITFE) is a comprehensive online directory of free and low-cost health and human service programs in New York City.

Supporting friends

When young people feel alone and isolated, or are in danger of harming themselves, they often turn to friends. Sadly, when they don’t get help they need, it can have serious consequences, including substance use, dangerous behaviors and suicidal thoughts.

Adolescents are highly susceptible to mental health disorders, especially anxiety, mood and attention disorders. These disorders are also more prevalent among female adolescents than in males. Obstetrician-gynecologists caring for adolescent patients should be familiar with these common disorders and their implications in adolescent gynecology and obstetric practice.

Seeing these signs in your teen or young friend can be scary, but it’s important to remember that the same prevention strategies that promote mental health can prevent a range of other negative experiences, from drug use to violence, for teens and families. It’s important to have conversations with your loved ones, and be a safe space for them to talk about their feelings. Help them find services, like headspace centres, and encourage them to seek support.

Supporting families

Psychologists are helping families and friends support kids with mental health problems by teaching them about the basics of care. They are also helping to improve mental health care for children in schools by working on ways to better equip school counselors, nurses and social workers with the tools they need to help youth.

Many kids with mental health problems face challenges at home, in school, and in their relationships. These difficulties can be exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, with effects including disruptions to education and family routines, increased food and housing insecurity, isolation, and skyrocketing behavioral health needs. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to reducing these barriers, and continuing the progress made in connecting kids to coverage through the Affordable Care Act, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This includes prioritizing access to behavioral health care services for adolescents who need them, such as those living in humanitarian or fragile settings, or those with chronic conditions, autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities; pregnant adolescents and adolescent parents; or adolescents who are a part of communities facing stigma, discrimination, or exclusion.

Supporting schools

School communities are a critical setting to support young people’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Psychologists are building training programs that teach teachers and other school staff how to foster supportive classroom environments. These include Classroom Wise, which draws on psychological research on social-emotional learning, behavioral regulation, mental health literacy and more, and Psychiatric First Aid for Youth.

Schools and colleges can also help students find services by connecting them with mental health professionals via telehealth. For example, a university in South Carolina used relief funds to partner with local community organizations to provide students with telehealth access to psychologists and social work graduate students trained in trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy.

The Biden-Harris Administration is focused on eliminating barriers to care and ensuring that the full continuum of prevention, treatment and recovery services are available for young people, including through community-based mental health service grants. CMS also recently issued guidance (PDF | 428 KB) to remind states that they can use their Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program funding to deliver high-quality, integrated child and youth behavioral health services.