Mental Health and Youth Health During Adolescence

A teen’s mental health can take a hit from economic pressure, family discord, bullying and other factors. These challenges can become especially acute during adolescence, when new connections are forming in the brain.

The first step in addressing youth mental health is talking openly. Asking youth how they are doing demonstrates you care, and makes space for them to share.


Adolescence is a critical period of development that often goes hand-in-hand with mental health issues. Adolescents who have poor mental health are at increased risk of drug use, experiencing violence, and engaging in high-risk sexual behaviors that lead to unintended pregnancy and HIV infections.

If your teen seems sad or irritable most days for two weeks or more, talk to them. They may feel like they can’t talk to you, but don’t give up; try to get them to a therapist.

It’s important to remember that kids have to want help for depression before they will accept it. Encourage them to interview a few therapists before making their choice so they can find the right fit.


Often, young people who attempt suicide say they didn’t really want to die—they just wanted to escape the pain of feeling rejected, hurt or alone. They may feel like they’re a burden to friends and family, or that they have no value in society.

Depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts can be triggered by any number of factors, including traumatic experiences, relationship problems and financial difficulties. Teens are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and behavior when they have a mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression. A teen who is having these thoughts should be screened and treated. They should also be kept away from lethal means, such as medication and firearms.


Everyone feels anxious sometimes, and it can be a normal feeling. But if anxiety becomes persistent and overwhelming, it can be a sign of a mental health condition.

Adolescence is a time when anxiety disorders tend to emerge. This is partly because the brain is growing, and new connections are forming between different parts.

Treatment for anxiety includes psychotherapy and medication. The most effective therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches individuals skills to overcome their anxiety-producing thoughts and behaviors. It also uses exposure therapy to help people face the situations and objects that trigger their anxiety. This decreases symptoms over time. Exercise and complementary health techniques like meditation can also help.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Children and teens with ADHD often benefit from behavioral therapy. It can help all members of a family learn effective coping methods for dealing with the symptoms, and it can also strengthen family bonds.

A mental health provider can diagnose ADHD based on the presence of specific symptoms that have interfered with adaptive functioning in two settings (home and school) for at least six months. The provider can then determine whether the symptoms are primarily inattentive or impulsive/hyperactive, and they may also specify the severity of the disorder.

Symptoms include fidgeting with hands or feet; trouble playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly; leaving their seat when remaining seated is expected; and frequent blurting out answers or interrupting games or conversations.

High-Risk Substance Use

Adolescents with mental health conditions are at increased risk for substance abuse. Environmental factors, including a history of alcohol or drug use in the family, peer group influence, and lack of protective factors such as healthy relationships and effective coping strategies contribute to this increased risk.

High-risk substance use interferes with adolescent brain development and increases the risk for long-term consequences, such as underachievement in school, mental health problems, unintended pregnancy, and drug addiction. It also poses personal and social risks, such as physical and sexual dating violence and legal problems. Managing underlying mental health issues and preventing drug use may reduce these risks.


Experiencing trauma at a young age can have lifelong effects. It can make it harder to trust others, have healthy relationships or work. It can also cause high-risk behaviors like drug use and violence.

Many youth who experience mental health problems are at risk for experiencing trauma due to their living conditions, social/emotional factors or stigma. These include adolescents who live in humanitarian and fragile settings; adolescent mothers and those involved in early or forced marriages; and those who are from minority ethnic/sex groups or other discriminated populations. These experiences may be compounded by a lack of access to quality services and supports.