Youth Mental Health – Impactful Solutions to Strengthen Young People’s Well-Being

Young people are facing multiple challenges and uncertainty. They have experienced the recession and its austerity measures, the pandemic with its disrupted schooling, social isolation and rising costs of living.

They are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Many are in relationships that are causing them stress and suffering.


Historically, agencies that cover public health or child welfare have often been the primary drivers of statewide youth mental health agendas. However, impactful solutions to strengthen youth mental health often require a holistic approach and benefit from cross-agency coordination and leadership.

Increasing awareness of youth-facing state services, providing easy access points to education and helplines, and ensuring high quality care is available in the places, spaces, and timeframes that young people want and need. Training and supporting educators and caregivers so that those who interact with youth daily have the knowledge and skills to identify and support mental health needs.

Addressing the social drivers of youth health, including economic hardship and lack of opportunity. Examples include addressing income disparities by expanding programs like American Samoa’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides jobs for economically disadvantaged youth. In addition, leveraging the federal investment in school-based interventions to improve the mental health and social development of students at risk.

Early Intervention

Young people have the highest incidence, prevalence and burden of mental health problems. This makes them a key population target for prevention and early intervention. Yet traditional models of service delivery, which do not reflect patterns of mental disorder onset in youth, have made it difficult for them to access services and support.

Adolescence is a time of emotional turmoil. Many youngsters are prone to experiment with drugs, alcohol and sex. These experiences can leave deep emotional scars that may be detrimental to their future mental health. This is why it is crucial for parents to keep a close eye on their kids to detect any symptoms of depression, anxiety or stress early on.

By identifying and providing them with the right treatment, they can overcome their struggles and lead a successful life. This is possible through effective outreach and collaboration with schools, pediatricians, parents, and other organizations that regularly engage with adolescents. These programs should be accessible, affordable, timely, non-stigmatizing, and community-based.


Youth mental health problems often cause significant distress and may lead to negative outcomes, including addictions and suicide. But these disorders are treatable, and a young person’s well-being can be restored with professional care, peer and family support services and a solid network of social supports.

Youth from certain backgrounds, such as children of incarcerated parents or those involved in the foster care system, are at increased risk for negative mental health outcomes. Governors can help address this by making mental health screening available to these young people and connecting them with care.

The 2022-2023 NGA Chair’s Initiative on Strengthening Youth Mental Health has held four roundtable discussions — one for each pillar – bringing together state leaders, experts and stakeholders from across the country to share solutions for children and youth. The final product, A Governor’s Playbook, highlights those solutions and identifies opportunities for future collaboration.


Youth mental health recovery requires a multi-faceted approach that includes building resilience, reducing the risk of conditions and addressing access and availability to high quality treatment and care. It also involves building relationships, providing a safe space and fostering hope.

While much of the current adult based recovery research outlines themes around personal processes and stages on a continuum, less is known about what is experienced by young people during mental health recovery. Simonds et al, (2014) directly explored youth experience of mental health recovery using qualitative interview methodology and found that their findings align with existing conceptualisations of recovery and a dynamic interplay between the person-environmental context.

Developing a definition of youth recovery is challenging as youth outcomes are often not directly observable or measurable in the same way as clinical or health services outcomes. Developing a set of youth outcome measures that are fit for purpose and can capture the range of factors and experiences of recovery and wellness will require partnership with young people, their families, caregivers and communities.