A Renewed Focus on Mental Health

The YTH Youth Advisory Board identified mental health as the number one topic young people are concerned with today. To better understand and address the mental health needs of youth, we are building staff knowledge and listening to youth and providers.

Youth are talking about mental health more and more. News of mass shootings and cyberbullying tragedies have put the importance of mental health into national discussion. But despite increasing awareness of mental illness, the majority of youth do not access mental health services. As few as 10% of youth actually seek help for mental health issues because of reluctance, stigma, or simply because they have no access to care. Other startling facts about youth mental health include:

  • 1 in 5 youth in the U.S. have or will have a serious mental illness
  • 75% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 24
  • Suicide is the second highest cause of death in youth in high-income countries, and the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Mental Health—A Common Thread in the Lives of Youth

Mental health is intimately linked to every experience in our lives. Mental illness can therefore affect how we interact with others, react to life events, and how we view the world. Factors like self-esteem and stress can hugely affect our mental health, while factors such as coping, resilience, and social support can change our individual experiences with mental health issues.

Social, cultural, and institutional factors also impact the experience of mental health, which disproportionately affect youth who have been historically marginalized. Factors such as socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation also have profound effects on our mental health. For example, youth of low socioeconomic status are two to three times more likely to experience mental illness.

Our experiences with others also has a big effect on our mental health. Trauma and bullying are two factors that can have serious, lasting effects on our mental health, especially if experienced at a younger age. Shockingly, studies have shown that as many as 70% of youth report experiencing some type of trauma before age 16.

Despite these troubling facts, technology has proven to be a valuable tool in not only making youth aware of mental health issues but engaging in treatment. Websites and mobile apps can reach youth who would rather seek more informal care than head to a therapist’s office. And social media can connect youth to resources and help raise awareness, as well as lead to face-to-face conversations with friends, family, and providers about mental health.

Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Youth

YTH is exploring how we can make an impact on youth mental health. Interns Emma Pence and Kate Wilburn conducted a literature review to discover some of the biggest mental health and wellness issues facing youth today. Cyberbullying was identified as one of the biggest issues facing youth today, both in the literature review and in YTH’s TECHsex research project on youth tech trends and access to sexual and reproductive health information. The full findings of the TECHsex project will be released in early 2017 and will help shape the direction that YTH takes to address the mental health needs of youth.

For those of us who work at the intersection of youth, tech, and health, it’s imperative to consider how issues of mental health impact to the strategies and programs that are designed to support youth. They have spoken loudly and clearly that mental health is a top priority, and we look forward to meeting their calls for support.

Learn more about our intern Kate Wilburn and other YTH staff.


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