Youth Mental Health Promotion and Prevention

Poor mental health can impact every area of a teen’s life, including school and grades, decision making, and their health. Fortunately, pediatricians are well positioned to help address this crisis.

Psychologists are studying and developing innovative solutions to help kids and teens stay healthy. These include new clinical models that offer telehealth visits and smartphone apps.

Risk factors

Many different factors can increase the likelihood of mental illness in teens and young adults. Some are genetic, while others are environmental. Exposure to stress or trauma can also cause mental health problems. The good news is that there are also protective factors that can help reduce the risk of developing a mental health disorder.

The most important protective factor is family stability and support. Teens who feel supported by their families are less likely to develop mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. They are also less likely to engage in self-harming behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse.

In addition, teens who have a mentor in their community are at a lower risk for suicide. This may be a school counselor, religious leader, neighborhood advocate or other trusted adult in their community. Having someone to talk to and trust is vital to mental well-being. The ability to regulate emotions is another protective factor for mental health.


It is normal for children and teenagers to occasionally feel low, but if they regularly experience problems with attention, mood or behavior, it could be a sign of a mental health issue. These may impact their grades, social relationships, work or school performance. They also can lead to substance use or even self-harm.

Some of the most common adolescent mental health disorders include anxiety and mood. These can be characterized by symptoms like restlessness or feelings of unease or worthlessness. Mood disorders include adjustment disorder with depressed mood, major depressive disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.

Some of the most serious teen mental health issues are adolescent psychotic disorders, which may include hallucinations or delusions. Examples of these are hearing or seeing things that are not there, feeling indestructible or beyond human, and being detached from reality. These are usually associated with more serious or persistent problems and should be treated as a medical emergency.


There is a need for interventions that offer mental health care and support to youth on a regular basis. They should also include psychological and cognitive modalities that focus on improving the ability to regulate emotions, enhance alternatives to risk-taking behavior, build resilience to cope with challenging situations and adversity, and promote supportive social environments and relationships.

Many of the available treatments and services are delivered through community-based organizations and/or primary health care settings. However, youth often report barriers to getting these services. In particular, they may have difficulty accessing MH services because of lack of awareness and availability of services, culturally insensitive or stigmatizing responses to their concerns by health care providers, or breakdowns in pathways linking them to MH treatment. Further, many studies of MH service delivery for youth lack standardized interventions and outcomes which makes meta-analysis difficult. Ideally, future research should include normative developmental data that can inform stage- and risk-adapted interventions.


Youth mental health prevention aims to minimize mental illness by targeting underlying risk factors in individuals and populations. This is achieved through a combination of promotion and prevention. Promotion focuses on optimizing positive mental health, while prevention targets the early identification and intervention of mental disorders.

Adolescents go through significant developmental changes that drive them to seek attention and approval from their peers. Social media often fulfills this need, but it can also send unhealthy messages that contribute to depression and anxiety. For example, some studies suggest that news and current events can cause teens to feel anxious or fearful.

Some of these risks can be mitigated by incorporating mental health practices into routine school health screenings. These include asking adolescents about family relationships and school experiences and providing them with education about adolescent development and health risks. Also, schools should provide access to mental health professionals who can help adolescents cope with stressors and manage their emotions.