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Youth and mental health


Adolescence - usually defined as ages 14-25 - can be a difficult time. There often are many pressures to manage. Worrying about them is normal, but feeling very sad, hopeless or worthless might be a sign of a mental health problem.

Youth mental health

Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. Mental health is the positive balance of the social, physical, spiritual, economic and mental aspects of one’s life. It is as important to a person’s well-being as physical health. When people are mentally healthy they are able to be productive in their daily lives and enjoy fulfilling relationships with others. They are better able to adapt to change and cope with stress.

Mental illness can occur when the brain - or part of the brain - is not working well or is working in the wrong way. When the brain is not working properly, a person may experience difficulty thinking or focusing attention, extreme emotional highs and lows, or sleep problems. When these symptoms significantly disrupt a person’s life, we say that the person has a mental disorder or a mental illness.

Many mental illnesses begin during childhood and continue into adolescence.

Some of these include:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Some illnesses begin during adolescence and continue into adulthood.

These include:

  • Major Depression (MD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar Disorder (BD)
  • Panic disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Addictions

Many of the mental disorders begin during or before adolescence, making these years an important time for the promotion of mental health.

Facts and Myths – Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health

Facts for Families – American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

Symptoms of mental illness in youth

Symptoms of mental illness can range from mild to severe and often take the form of changes in thinking, mood or behaviour, or some combination of all three. The symptoms of mental illness in youth can vary greatly depending on the type of mental disorder, the individual, the person’s family history of mental illness, and the environment.

If left untreated, mental disorders can hold back a young person’s emotional and social development, leaving them feeling socially isolated, stigmatized and unhappy.

Fortunately, mental health problems can be treated. If you feel very sad, stressed or worried, it might help to talk to someone about how you are feeling.


Generally, there are three main types of treatment available for mental disorders:

  • Psychotherapy (examples include counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy)
  • Medications (examples include antidepressants and antipsychotics)
  • Social (examples include educational andoccupational as well as life skills)

The choices of these treatments depend on the type and severity of the mental disorder; the type and degree of problems the disorder is causing, and the scientific evidence that supports the use of a particular treatment. In many cases, two or more of these treatments may be provided at the same time.

Evidence Based Medicine for Patients

National Institutes of Mental Health – Medications Booklet for Patients and Families

Transition issues

As youth make the move to adulthood, they often go through transitional phases along the way. The transition that young people make to new academic, workplace and social groups can sometimes create pressure and stress with which they are not able to deal. These stresses can have an impact on a young person’s emotional well-being, their ability to learn and engage in social activities, and may play a role in why some youth dropout of school or quit their job.

Today, many schools and employers are faced with the task of dealing with student and employee problems, including those that affect their mental health. With young people spending considerable time in the classroom and on the job, schools and workplaces are the ideal place to identify and address mental health problems in youth.

In order to effectively address stress and mental health problems in school - and on the job -  we need to help young people understand and meet new challenges in the most mentally healthly manner possible. We also need to help young people, their parents, educators and employers learn to identify mental disorders. We need to ensure that youth who develop mental disorders are given help to quickly access the best care possible so that they can get on the road to recovery and success as soon as possible.

By advancing the mental health literacy of educators and employers, and informing youth of the problems and risks they might encounter as they transition through life phases, we are empowering them with the tools necessary to make smart choices about their health and well-being.

Transitions: Student Reality Check

Other resources:

headspace Australia's National Youth Mental Health Foundation


Canadian Mental Health Association