The Mental Health of Adolescents is in Crisis

One in seven adolescents suffers from some type of mental disorder, a figure that's worsened since the pandemic. The question is: what can we do to help them?
The Mental Health of Adolescents is in Crisis

Last update: 04 October, 2022

The mental health of adolescents is in crisis. This is demonstrated by recent figures, which claim that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 19. Furthermore, one in seven young people between the ages of ten and 19 suffers from some type of mental disorder.

In fact, 14 percent of adolescents in this age group suffer from some kind of mental disorder. It means that 86 million adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 and 80 million adolescents between the ages of ten and 14 suffer from this type of disorder. This is confirmed by official data from the WHO.

However, what risks does a lack of good mental health have at this vital stage of life? How can we help adolescents to improve it? What can we do as parents, educators, and specialists? Let’s find out.

The mental health of adolescents in crisis

The mental health of adolescents is in crisis. Helping them is our responsibility. They’re minors who, while they’re practically autonomous, continue to be our responsibility.

The top three mental health problems among adolescents are depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders. The fact that one in seven adolescents between the ages of ten and 19 suffers from a mental disorder is alarming. Furthermore, these conditions tend to continue to a large extent without receiving due recognition and treatment.

Sad teenager looking in the mirror

Risk of other problems

According to the WHO, adolescents who suffer from certain mental disorders are also more vulnerable to suffering from:

  • Social exclusion.
  • Discrimination.
  • Stigmatization problems (affecting their willingness to seek help).
  • Educational difficulties.
  • Risk behaviors.
  • Poor physical health.
  • Human rights violations.

Adolescence: a crucial period

Adolescence is a complex stage. It’s also a vulnerable time and a crucial period for the development of emotional and social habits, those that are essential to enjoy a good state of balance and mental health. Habits such as:

  • The adoption of healthy sleep patterns.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • The developing of skills to maintain interpersonal relationships.
  • Coping with difficult situations and solving problems.
  • Learning to manage emotions.

To achieve these, the child needs a favorable environment and to be protected by their family, school, and the community in general, regardless of whether or not they suffer from a mental disorder. However, if the adolescent also suffers from a mental disorder, the situation becomes more complex. That’s when the aforementioned risks appear. So what can we do about it?

“Adolescence is the conjugator of childhood and adulthood.”

-Louise J. Kaplan-

What to do to promote the mental health of adolescents?

The Hospital Sant Joan de Déu (Spain) together with Faros and the Childhood Observatory, produced a guide entitled Una Mirada a la Salud Mental de Los Adolescentes (A Look at the Mental Health of Adolescents). It includes some good practices to promote mental health. Here are the most important:

1. Understand that their brain is changing

During adolescence, brain circuits are restructured, new connections are formed, and others disappear. It’s essential to know about these changes in order to better understand and accompany adolescents in their different behavioral and emotional processes and changes, etc. That’s because the brain, behavior, and emotions are all connected.

2. Network

Teamwork is essential. Parents, educational centers, and specialists must communicate and work together to facilitate young people’s transition to adult life, whether or not they suffer from mental health issues. For this reason, it’s important to network and encourage communication between the different environments of adolescents to help them coordinate and resolve their doubts, etc.

3. Don’t judge them

We must accompany our adolescent children, students, or patients, both in their successes and failures. We must also help them manage their difficulties and assist them in their decision-making.

If a mental disorder appears, they must feel that there’s someone close by who’s listening to them and not judging them. In these conversations with them, we should try and explain what’s happening and find out whether they want to seek outside help.

4. Promote quality communication

Communication with adolescents is key and it must be of good quality. Therefore, a style based on active listening should be employed. We must show ourselves to be flexible and available, and listen with empathy and unconditional acceptance.

We mustn’t judge them. On the contrary, we should reinforce the fact that they’re explaining to us what’s happening to them or that they’re asking for help, etc.

6. Manage their use of new technologies

New technologies have an undeniable impact on the mental health of adolescents. An article was published in Computers in Human Behavior (Rial et al., Universidad Santiago de Compostela 2018), and cited on Unicef.  The article estimated that 18.2 percent of users of new technologies between the ages of 12 and 17 years make problematic use of them. This rate was 20.1 percent in the 14-15 age group and 23.4 percent in the 16-17 age group.

They further estimated that at least one out of every five minors is making problematic use of the Internet. Therefore, it’s important that we use new technologies judiciously and lead by example. We shouldn’t prohibit our adolescents from using them, but we should limit them. Furthermore, we must train and help our children to acquire the appropriate social skills.

Teenager using mobile at night in bed

7. Ask for professional help

Psychological (and sometimes also psychiatric) support is essential for an adequate approach to mental disorders in adolescence. It’s important to ask for help, but we need to know when. It should be when the symptoms are of considerable intensity and duration, their performance changes, or there’s behavior or discomfort that interferes with their daily lives.

8. Promote healthy living

It’s essential that adolescents maintain a healthy life, with good nutritional status, a healthy lifestyle, the practice of regular sports, and a good quantity and quality of daily sleep, etc. All these measures will favor the normal development of their cognitive and behavioral processes.

The mental health of adolescents is at stake

Although it’s true that the figures on mental health disorders have increased in all groups after the pandemic, adolescents are one of the highest. These boys and girls are at a really important stage in their development and we mustn’t ever trivialize the figures relating to their mental suffering.

We must be aware at a social level that mental health is important. We should denounce the lack of social policies in which people’s mental health is prioritized, thus facilitating access to good professionals who can accompany our children in their transition to adult life.

Let’s act to lower the number of adolescent suicides and suffering. We need to talk about these and other mental health problems and prevent them from becoming taboo. After all, we don’t want our young people isolating themselves to the extent that they feel unable to venture out. They need our help.

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  • OMS: CIE-10. (1992). Trastornos Mentales y del Comportamiento. Décima Revisión de la Clasificación Internacional de las Enfermedades. Descripciones Clínicas y pautas para el diagnóstico. Organización Mundial de la Salud, Ginebra.
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