Psychologists are studying the social and structural factors that contribute to youth mental health challenges. They’re also working to improve clinical training and restructure policies in schools and communities.
Youth with mental health problems can do well when they have access to treatment, services and supports, family and community support, and healthy relationships.
What is it?
A growing body of research suggests that young people who are struggling with mental health conditions face challenges in school, at home and in their communities. Those challenges can impact their ability to thrive.
Poor mental health causes suffering for children and teens across the globe and is a top cause of death, disease and disability. Half of all mental illness begins by age 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017 alone, a third of high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless for more than two weeks and 17% seriously considered suicide.
Although adolescent mental health issues often go unrecognized and untreated, psychologists are developing and disseminating solutions to address this crisis. They’re researching how to make it easier for young people to access care by connecting them to providers that are youth-friendly and culturally relevant. They’re also designing new interventions to help prevent the onset of depression and anxiety.
What are the symptoms?
Many teens struggle with mental health issues. These problems can impact school and grades, relationships, decision making, their overall health and even life expectancy. It’s important to learn the warning signs of poor mental health in a young person, especially when it comes to depression and anxiety.
While it’s normal for youth to experience ups and downs, if these symptoms persist, it could be time to talk to a doctor. These symptoms can include an overly negative or positive attitude, being withdrawn or aggressive, having difficulty concentrating, feeling sad, hopeless or anxious, and changes in sleep habits or eating.
Teens in particular who live in humanitarian and fragile settings; adolescents with chronic illness, autism spectrum disorder, an intellectual disability or neurological condition; and those in early or forced marriages are at higher risk of having psychiatric disorders. But the sooner a teen gets help, the better their chances of recovery and preventing more serious mental health conditions in adulthood.
How can I help?
Helping youth to develop good mental health includes promoting positive and caring relationships, providing safe and supportive environments at home and school, teaching children ways to manage difficult emotions, fostering alternatives to risky behaviors, and linking them to mental health services. It also involves implementing prevention strategies that promote mental health like helping children feel connected to school and family, reducing bullying and peer pressure, and encouraging healthy practices such as avoiding drugs/alcohol and limiting screen time.
Pediatricians are uniquely positioned to help address the mental health needs of adolescents and can use their long-term relationships with families to destigmatize mental health care. They can also provide a first line of defense against suicide by screening adolescents for depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. They can also offer teleconsultation to assist in making mental health referrals. They can also educate parents and adolescents about the importance of early identification themes. And they can link them to mental health resources, including helplines, treatment locators, and peer networks.
What should I do?
Children and teens experience emotional ups and downs, and these normal changes can be difficult to distinguish from a mental health problem. If you notice a change in your child or teen, talk to them about it. Ask if they’re sleeping enough and if they have any new friends or interests. Make sure they save emergency numbers on their cell phones so they can get help if needed.
It’s important to know that mental health problems are treatable. Don’t let stigma keep you from getting help for your child or teen. If they develop a mental health condition, get them treatment just like you would for a broken arm or leg.
Psychologists are working hard to find solutions to combat youth mental health challenges. From improving clinical training to refocusing prevention services, they’re helping young people and their families. You can be a part of the movement by advocating for increased funding and awareness in your community.