Mental Health in Youth

Adolescents with poor mental health can experience many issues including depression, anxiety and self-harm. These may impact school performance and decision making as well as family relationships.

In 2021, CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance found that feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness increased among LGBQ+ youth, girls, and students from minority ethnic or sexual groups.

1. Depression

Depression is a mental illness that causes sadness and hopelessness. It can also cause people to feel irritable or angry or to start eating more or less than usual. Depression can have a big impact on young people. It’s important to encourage young people to talk about how they feel with someone they trust, such as a parent, teacher, school counsellor, family member or friend.

Depression can be treated with psychological therapy that helps people learn new ways of coping and changing their negative thoughts and behaviours. Medicine may also be needed to help treat depression in some teens.

Teens with severe depression may need more intensive treatment. This can include hospitalization in a psychiatric hospital or a day program that offers counseling and group discussions with other teens and adults.

2. Anxiety

Pre-teens and teenagers often feel anxious, as they go through a time of change and growth. This includes physical changes, such as going to secondary school, looking a particular way and fitting in with friends, and new challenges, such as public speaking and sports competitions.

Getting plenty of exercise, eating healthy food and sleeping well can help reduce anxiety symptoms. GPs, psychologists and youth counselling services can also offer cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to teach young people how to manage their feelings of anxiety.

If a child or teenager has anxious feelings that don’t go away, they may have an anxiety disorder. These can be treated with therapy and medication. The earlier they get treatment, the better. This is because the longer an anxiety disorder goes untreated, the more serious it can become.

3. Suicide

Suicide is a public health concern that takes an enormous toll on families, communities, and our nation. It costs more than $500 billion each year in medical and work loss costs, value of life, and quality of life losses.

It is important to know that youth who are considering suicide have a real problem, and they need help. Suicide is often related to mental health conditions, such as depression and substance use disorders. It can also be associated with stress and trauma (e.g., break-up of a relationship, death of a loved one, school failures) or financial difficulties.

Warning signs of suicide include being sad or hopeless for long periods of time, feeling like you can’t cope with life and hearing or seeing things that others don’t see. Attempts at suicide are usually impulsive.

4. Grief

Grief can be especially challenging for teenagers. They may feel that their peers don’t understand the loss and that it makes them less normal. As a result, they may hide their feelings or turn to destructive coping behaviors.

Although it is natural for teens to experience grief after the death of a loved one, some people develop prolonged grief disorder that causes problems with their daily lives. This can lead to a number of mental health issues including anxiety and depression.

This Covid-19 pandemic can serve as an opportunity to build resilience and compassion through collective action, community support, and peer support groups. We need to foster communities that help grieving youth through their darkest times by reinvigorating the collective structures that historically guided people through grief.

5. Self-harm

Nonsuicidal self-injury – cutting or burning – can be a way for people to cope with painful emotions, anger, sadness or stress. It may bring a moment of relief, but it often leads to feelings of guilt and shame. Eventually, hurting themselves becomes a pattern of behaviour and can lead to serious injuries, scarring and medical conditions.

It is important that anyone who hurts themselves gets help from a GP or counsellor. A therapist will accept their self-injury without condoning it, and help them to stop at their own pace.

If someone you know or care about is in immediate danger, call 999 or go straight to A & E. Otherwise, ask them to talk in a safe place and stay calm. Focus on their feelings rather than the behaviour, as this can help them to open up and get support.