Mental Health in Youth

A wide range of factors can contribute to poor mental health in teens, including social media use, economic pressures, shifts in puberty onset and increasing school-based bullying. Psychologists are working to better understand and address these trends.

The demand for youth mental health services far outstrips the capacity of traditional systems to respond. These services are particularly critical for adolescents in humanitarian and fragile settings; those living with a chronic illness or disability; and marginalized groups such as adolescent mothers and adolescent girls.


Adolescence is a time of physiological change, intense feelings of sexuality, and efforts toward the construction of identity. Teens also begin to pull away from their parents and may form close relationships with their peers as they experiment with new ways of being in the world.

Mental health conditions are more common among adolescents than adults, with anxiety disorders (including phobias and nervousness), depression disorders, and attention disorders leading the way. These disorders have the potential to disrupt everyday life, including school and work performance, and they can lead to illness and disability in adulthood.

To prevent these problems, teens should have a balance of structure and freedom in their lives. They should have a set of clear, reasonable expectations around curfews, school engagement, media use, and behavior. They should be given more autonomy over time as they show responsibility and maturity. This can help reduce their risk of alcohol and drug abuse, or other risks such as getting pregnant or contracting a sexually-transmitted disease from unprotected sex.


While it is normal for kids to feel sad from time to time, when these feelings persist, become more frequent and erode a young person’s quality of life, they may be suffering from depression. Teens who experience depression may be irritable and withdrawn or show more angry behaviours. They might not be sleeping well or eating much, and they could start to contemplate self harm or suicide. Teens who are struggling with depression often have co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, eating problems or substance abuse.

It’s important for parents and caregivers to know the signs and symptoms of depression in teens, such as changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, lack of energy, recurrent thoughts about death or suicidal ideation. It is also important to ask about their history with depression and any suicidal thinking. Involving the family can be very helpful and can help to speed up their recovery. The good news is that depression can be treated and most people recover with the right support and treatment.


Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems. It is a normal response to stress or pressure, but it can be a problem when the feelings are constant and interfere with daily life and relationships.

Teens who are anxious can be irritable, restless or nervous. They may avoid people or places because of their fear, which can lead to isolation and social distancing.

If a teen is experiencing anxiety, the first step is to talk to someone – family members, friends, a teacher or coach, the Quitline on 13 7848 or the Alcohol and Drug Helpline on 1800 250 015. It is also important to get regular exercise and cut down on caffeine, which can cause sleep disturbances. Psychoeducation (instruction on understanding the links between thoughts, feelings and behaviour) and cognitive behavioural therapy are often recommended as treatment options. These treatments can be done face to face or over the telephone. They involve teaching skills and gradually exposing a teen to their fears in small steps.


Suicide among young people is one of the most devastating consequences of mental health disorders. It results in the loss of many young lives and has negative impacts on the families, friends, communities and society at large. It is also a major challenge for healthcare providers and the public to recognize and respond to suicide risk in youth.

Teens should be encouraged to talk openly about their feelings and emotions. They should be told that their feelings are normal and that there is help available. They should also be screened for depression and suicidal thoughts. They should also be limited in their access to lethal means of self-infliction, such as medication or firearms.

Providing access to developmentally and culturally appropriate mental health services is critical for all youth. Youth in certain groups have higher rates of suicide than others, including Black and Indigenous youth, rural youth, those living in low-resource urban settings, those with special healthcare needs, and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or two-spirit.