Youth health mental is a national crisis. Most youth receive little or no professional help for their MH needs; the majority of contact is through schools, and mostly as formal responses to troubled behavior (e.g. fighting, delinquency) or attendance problems.
Teens have had to cope with a global economic recession and related financial difficulties, pandemic-related school closures and social isolation, gun violence, international conflict, natural disasters, and climate change.
Adolescence is a time of intense emotional and psychological highs and lows. These are normal and healthy parts of the adolescent journey, but they can also lead to mental health problems if not handled correctly.
At this stage, a young person defines other people in terms of their own self-interest and often has a hard time understanding how their behaviour affects others. This can look like selfishness or narcissism, but in many cases it is simply a teen trying to work out their identity.
In addition, this stage is a period of experimentation with different lifestyles and careers. It is not uncommon for adolescents to experience financial stress or relationship difficulties. These experiences can cause poor mental health, which has a range of negative consequences for a young person’s life, from school performance to future job opportunities to the likelihood of getting a sexually transmitted disease or unplanned pregnancy. Mental health problems often go hand-in-hand with other risks, including drug use and violence.
Adolescent development is a time of significant physical and psychological changes, as well as heightened risk-taking behaviors. It’s a period when internal emotional and social changes are often in conflict, creating unique communication and relationship challenges.
Mental health disorders in adolescents seldom appear suddenly and tend to emerge gradually, increasing in frequency and severity over time. Symptoms may be similar to certain behaviors that are typically part of adolescence, and family members and friends are often the first to notice early symptoms.
A positive response to screening questions should always be followed by a referral to a qualified provider for further evaluation and treatment. Providers may include child and adolescent psychiatrists, adolescent-friendly psychologists or psychotherapists, and adolescent medicine specialists. Ensure that adolescents have access to high-quality, affordable, culturally competent mental health care services. Educate teens about the risk factors for mental health problems, including substance use and suicide. Support programs that teach healthy decision-making and increase social connectedness to reduce teen risk-taking behaviors.
Adolescent Mental Health
Adolescent mental health is a complex mix of emotions and behaviors. Highs and lows are a normal part of the adolescent experience, but sometimes these intense feelings are a sign of an underlying problem. Mental illness is often diagnosed in adolescence and can lead to serious problems like drug addiction, homicide and suicide.
Puberty is also a time when many youth become more aware of their sexual orientations and gender identities, which can result in being bullied or excluded by peers or family members. This can increase stress and depression rates.
In addition to addressing the issues that impact mental health, it’s important for communities to make sure they have access to qualified healthcare providers who specialize in adolescents. This includes child and adolescent psychiatrists, psychologists who focus on teens, and adolescent medicine specialists. Insurance restrictions and lack of funding for adolescent services are significant barriers. It’s also critical to have programs that help teens connect with a health care provider and encourage them to talk about their mental health problems.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among adolescents. Several factors increase the risk of suicide in teens including mental disorders, previous attempts, genetic loading and family processes in combination with triggering psychosocial stressors. It’s important to take a teen’s talk of suicide seriously and encourage them to seek expert help immediately.
Many adolescent suicides are precipitated by feelings of hopelessness, rage and isolation. Sometimes these feelings are compounded by drug and alcohol use. Adolescents that have strong support systems are at lower risk of suicide. Such supports may come from parents, guardians, family and friends as well as school administrators, teachers and coaches or leaders of extracurricular activities. Children and teenagers who are separated from their families by death, divorce, military service, incarceration or other reasons also have increased risks for suicide. Adolescents that are struggling with a lack of stable housing also are at greater risk for suicide.