Young people are facing serious challenges:
- Teen suicide increased by 56 percent between 2007-2017 (CDC).
- Consistently, 11-17-year-olds are more likely than any age group to screen moderate to severe for a mental health condition on Mental Health America’s Screening Platform. In 2019, 83% of 11-17-year-olds scored with moderate to severe symptoms, compared to 71% of screeners over 18.
- Seventy percent of teens see depression and anxiety as major issues among their peers (Pew Research Center).
- Fifty-nine percent of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health services (Mental Health America).
There are little to no mental health resources in many communities. Even when they are available, resources may be unaffordable and are rarely created by or alongside young people. Many do not focus on fun or engaging ways to promote mental health, the stigma of getting mental health support, or the discrimination faced by young people with mental health challenges or disabilities. They are informed by how mental health services have always been offered with little emphasis on how or where young people want to receive support.
Resources are often not designed or informed by the diversity of young people’s experiences and identities, especially for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Youth and LGBTQ+ youth. Services and systems do not consider the lack of trust that many youth have in mental health resources, especially those who have had traumatic experiences with mental health services or other systems like the criminal justice system, child welfare, or homeless and runaway youth services.
Additionally, mental health is not a standalone issue. Our mental health is impacted by the world around us. While not all young people experience mental health challenges, there are many social and structural factors that hurt youth mental health. In creating resources and understanding young people’s mental health, it is important to address broader issues and understand how they impact youth mental health and mental health services.
- BIPOC youth with mental health challenges are more likely to be directed to the juvenile justice system than non-Latinx white youth. They face higher rates of harsh disciplinary and expulsion practices that divert them to the juvenile justice system, as opposed to appropriate mental health services (American Psychiatric Association).
- Poor cultural awareness and outright cultural incompetence among many service providers can lead to underdiagnosis and/or misdiagnosis of mental health challenges in BIPOC youth (Journal of Child and Family Studies).
- People who identify as two or more races are most likely to report any mental illness in the past year than any other race/ethnic group (American Psychiatric Association).
- LGB youth have poorer mental health outcomes than non-LGB youth. They are more likely to experience depression and attempt suicide than non-LGB youth. Experiences with discrimination and family rejection influence these differences (Youth.gov).
- Over half of all transgender and non-binary youth have seriously considered suicide (The Trevor Project).
- Even when connected to mental health resources, LGBTQ+ youth and young adults may not be able to find affirming providers.
- Prolonged experiences of poverty increase adolescents’ likelihood of experiencing depression and substance use (Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing).
- Low-income youth are more likely to experience feelings of helplessness that can continue into adulthood (National Academy of Sciences).
- Youth who experience homelessness have higher rates of mental health conditions including ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD (Homelessness Policy Research Institute).
Read more: Social Determinants of Health
- Youth who have experienced trauma are significantly more likely to have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide (US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)).
- 29 percent of youth with mental health conditions have witnessed violent crime, 24 percent have experienced physical assault, and 11 percent have experienced sexual assault (SAMHSA).
- Exposure to trauma as a young person can impact brain development and one’s ability to learn (Orygen).
Other social issues that impact youth and young adult mental health include bullying, climate change, academic stress, and student loan debt.
While there are many challenges, there is also hope.
At Mental Health America, we are guided by our B4Stage4 Philosophy. We believe that we can no longer wait until a crisis to support people’s mental health. If we want to improve mental health, we must start early, invest in what works, and advance the ideas and leadership of young people.
We believe in the growing movement of young people working across issues in mental health to create mentally healthy and thriving communities. If you want to make a difference in your community, you can learn more about leading programs, people, and organizations on our Program Ideas page.