Mental health problems are a leading cause of illness and disability in adolescents. They can impair their physical and social development, affecting their quality of life as adults.
A variety of factors can contribute to a youth health mental issue. From structural racism to pandemic isolation, the effects can be felt especially by vulnerable groups.
During the school year, many teens deal with significant amounts of stress. This can include the pressure of exams, social experiences and relationships, and the demands of family life. They may also worry about the world and its problems.
The sources of stress can be biological or psychological. Biological stressors can be anything from illnesses and injuries to hunger or coldness. Psychological stressors are more complex and often come from the meaning a person gives to situations. This can be a result of work pressures, relationship conflict or a high-risk lifestyle.
Teens can be at risk for mental health issues due to pre-existing conditions like depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders. These can cause stress when managing appointments, symptoms and medication. This can lead to a lack of sleep and increase the likelihood of physical symptoms like headaches, dizziness and fatigue. A therapist can help diagnose mental health issues and provide treatment. They can also teach relaxation and breathing techniques that will decrease stress levels.
Symptoms of mental disorders are often present during childhood and adolescence. In fact, one in five youth has a disorder that causes impairment. But fewer than a third receive treatment.
Several types of symptoms can signal that a young person is in crisis and needs immediate help, including difficulty thinking clearly, not feeling able to speak or understand what others are saying, a sudden change in emotions, hallucinations and delusions, disruptive behavior and feelings of being out of touch with reality. These symptoms may be dynamic, meaning that they are triggered by a specific circumstance and change with that situation. Or they can be static, such as muscle weakness that is the same regardless of exercise or rest.
Children and teens who experience these issues have a higher risk of developing a mental health condition as adults. This can be due to genetic factors, biological factors such as chemical imbalances in the brain, or environmental conditions, such as living in an area with high rates of violence or exposure to air and water pollutants.
Mental health problems can affect a young person’s ability to learn and function in school and in life. They can also cause a range of negative outcomes, from self-harm to substance abuse.
A wide variety of experiences can lead to mental health issues in youth, including poverty, homelessness and poor nutrition. These experiences can have a compounding effect, making the problem worse.
Treatments for youth mental health focus on addressing the underlying causes of the problem and preventing future crises. Some approaches involve working with children and teens to teach them ways to practice mindfulness and regulate their emotions. Others include medication.
Some studies suggest that integrated youth mental health services could benefit from a clinical staging model framework that extends beyond the limited ultra-high risk (UHR) paradigm for psychosis. This would increase the capacity for intervention for at-risk youth who have not yet developed full-blown symptoms of psychosis. This is a critical gap in current prevention and early intervention efforts.
The most effective treatment for mental health problems is preventive. Health care providers can help by addressing the risk factors that lead to them and by encouraging positive youth development.
Adolescents can improve their mental health by learning to practice healthy self-care and taking control of their own behavior. They can also learn to manage stress and seek support when they need it. Parents can encourage their children to talk about their feelings and listen when they need to. They can also help by practicing healthy family behaviors.
Neighborhood and environment factors also affect youth health. For example, those living in areas with high levels of violence or compromised air and water quality face greater risks than others.
Many mental disorders start in childhood or adolescence, with 50% of all mental illness cases appearing by age 14 and accounted for 45% of disability-adjusted life-years worldwide in 2022. This demonstrates the need to rethink preventive strategies and prioritize services that promote youth wellness.