Mental Health in Youth

Poor mental health in adolescents can impact all areas of their lives including school and grades, decision making and relationships. It can also increase their risk for suicide.

Teens want choice and flexibility with their mental health care. MOST offers them online therapy content, tools and human support in a safe and engaging space.

Risk factors

Many factors may increase the risk of mental health problems in youth. These include family dysfunction, physical or emotional abuse, drug or alcohol misuse, a history of suicide attempt, poor school grades and chronic sadness or depression. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in youths aged 15-24 years. It is important that obstetrician-gynecologists be alert to the possibility of depression and suicidal ideation in their patients and take appropriate action.

The KiGGS cohort study identified four risk classes. Class members differed in their vulnerability to negative mental health outcomes. Compared to the basic-risk class, social-risk and parental-risk class members had higher odds of having internalizing or externalizing mental health problems, depression or ADHD. These risk classes predominated in late adolescent girls and young males respectively. A high number of individuals in the social-risk and parental-risk classes reported discrimination regarding appearance, weight or gender. This is consistent with results of previous national adolescent studies.


Young people can be difficult to evaluate for mental health problems. However, if you notice any significant changes in your child’s behavior, talk with his or her Penn primary care physician.

Symptoms that may indicate mental illness in teens include persistent sadness, irritability or difficulty concentrating. They also may include trouble with schoolwork or a change in how your teen interacts with peers. Depression and other mood disorders such as bipolar disorder can cause sudden, severe mood changes and a loss of interest in life. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa commonly emerge in adolescence. Schizophrenia, a mental disorder that involves altered perceptions and beliefs, often appears in late adolescence or early adulthood.

Mental health problems can lead to substance use and unhealthy behaviors such as unprotected sexual activity, which raises the risk of HIV, STDs and unintended pregnancy. These behaviors can also increase the risk of suicide and self-harm. Many of the same prevention strategies that promote mental health can also help prevent these negative outcomes in youth.


Most mental health disorders are not permanent, and many can be treated or prevented. Youth with mental health problems often experience better outcomes when supported by a combination of protective factors and services (eg, family and community support, education, treatment, peer-led initiatives).

However, it is important to note that some risks are unavoidable. For example, it is not possible to prevent the genetic risk factor for most psychiatric disorders, and many psychosocial difficulties during childhood are difficult or impossible to avoid.

It is essential that prevention and intervention programs are tailored to youth’s context and needs. They should address multiple risk factors at once, focusing on enhancing alternatives to risky behaviours and supporting resilience. In addition, they should prioritize non-pharmacological approaches and ensure the respect of adolescents’ rights. These efforts should be guided by experts in youth mental health.


Many people are aware that if they wash their hands often, get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet they can prevent infections and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. They also know that if they wear their seatbelts and don’t drink and drive, they will be much less likely to be injured or killed in a car crash.

Mental health conditions are equally preventable. Prevention strategies are available that can help reduce the risk of mental illness, enabling young people to live fulfilling lives.

Adolescence is a key time for good mental health, as it’s when most mental disorders appear, with up to one in five people already symptomatic by the age of 25. Adolescents who experience mental health problems are at high risk of other risks such as drug misuse and poor sexual behaviours that can lead to HIV and unintended pregnancy. These can have long-term consequences, affecting physical and mental health.