Mental Health and Youth Health

Feeling persistently sad or hopeless, or having suicidal thoughts, has become a common experience for youth. In the decade leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, such feelings have been increasing in many groups of youth.

Psychologists are working to understand why and to find solutions. Here’s what we know so far:.


Adolescence is a critical time of life when many health behaviors and habits are established that will carry into adulthood. The same prevention strategies that promote mental health, like helping youth feel connected to school and family, can also prevent a range of other health risks, including drug use, violence, unintended pregnancy, and risky sexual behavior that can lead to HIV and STDs.

Youth experiencing mental health problems tend to drop out of high school and are more likely to engage in at-risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. They are also more likely to experience adversity such as poverty, homelessness, or exposure to violence and discrimination.

To address this, the federal government should strengthen data collection and analysis to enable real-time surveillance of youth mental health trends. Educators should be trained to recognize and respond to signs of emotional distress in adolescents, and schools should invest in social-emotional learning. This can help students learn how to recognize and manage their emotions, rather than reacting with fear or stigma.

Early Intervention

Early intervention strategies focus on identifying and intervening to reduce mental health problems in people in their earliest stages, or preventing them from escalating. These services can include mental health assessments, psychiatric care, and support. They can also help prevent the disruptions that a person’s untreated mental health problems might cause in their daily lives. This includes strained relationships with family and friends, absences from school or work, and difficulty in concentrating or motivating.

Youth-based prevention services are often provided in the community by a variety of agencies, such as schools, local government, charities, and health and social care organizations. They include programs that provide mindfulness-based training, help young people recognize warning signs of depression and suicide, and foster protective sources of strength.

The development of integrated youth mental healthcare systems is accelerating globally. These integrate mental health and primary care to optimize positive outcomes for youth. They are being implemented in countries such as Ireland (Headstrong and Jigsaw), the United Kingdom (youth space) and California (ACCESS). These services can offer people with mental health needs a holistic view of their care.


Adolescent mental health conditions can dramatically impact their quality of life, causing disruptive behavior and social withdrawal. They can also lead to poor school attendance and a decline in academic performance, and may contribute to self-harm and suicide.

Psychologists are working hard to understand and tackle the underlying causes of this crisis, developing solutions for families and schools—and pushing for new policy changes. They’re educating the public about signs and symptoms to watch out for, including sudden changes in mood, irritability or suicidal thoughts, so that people can seek help when needed.

In addition, psychologists are recommending preventive measures such as regular anxiety and depression screenings for youth. They’re calling for improved data collection and research, particularly involving nontraditional data sources like technology companies, to enable more timely, effective responses. And they’re promoting collaborations between community organizations, school districts, governments and universities to better coordinate efforts at all levels.


Adolescents who experience mental health problems are at higher risk of experiencing violence, substance use or high-risk sexual behaviours, including unintended pregnancy and HIV. Prevention strategies that promote good mental health – like helping adolescents feel connected to school and family – also help prevent these negative experiences.

Increase the availability of evidence-based support and treatment for adolescents. This includes reducing stigma and discrimination; increasing awareness; promoting and supporting mental wellness in schools, the workplace, and in community settings; and improving coordination between youth-serving agencies.

Address the unique needs of vulnerable adolescents — such as those living in humanitarian and fragile settings; those with disabilities; or those who are at greater risk due to their ethnic, racial, or sexual identity — who are more likely to experience mental health conditions and have poorer outcomes. Youth-serving organizations should include these populations in their outreach and recruitment efforts, and ensure that program staff are culturally competent. Improve data collection and real-time information sharing, to better understand and respond to youth mental health trends.