May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and in 2022 Mental Health America (a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness) is focusing on foundational knowledge about mental health at a time when the world is more keenly aware of the effects of isolation and stress due to COVID-19.¹ A person’s mental health can affect not only their quality of life from an emotional and physical standpoint in the present, but also later in life. As a result, the mental health of younger patients is important to monitor in order to prevent current and future struggles with mental health disorders.
Access to mental health care is critical for adolescents and young adults, who are at a unique and formative time in their development. What is the current state of youth mental health, and how might youth-oriented health care programs be improved?
The State of Youth Mental Health
A 2022 study in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology examined data on the mental well-being of 3767 adolescents in five European countries, and found that more interventions are needed to address the unique mental health struggles of young people.² The researchers grouped the adolescents into three different clusters based on their mental health profiles. The “poor” mental health profile cluster (categorized by low levels of well-being) comprised 6% of the total group; the intermediate cluster made up 68%; the “good” cluster totaled only 26%.
Of the 221 adolescents in the “poor” cluster, 64% had been involved in a physical fight in the last year prior to answering the questionnaire. In the two months prior, 41% reported being cyberbullied and 50% reported being bullied. Nearly half (46%) said they had consumed alcohol in their lifetime, while 27% had smoked.
Although the intermediate cluster had better profiles than the poor cluster, they still demonstrated struggles that require addressing. Out of the 2553 adolescents in this group, many still experienced significant struggles; 35% had been in a physical fight in the past year, 16% had been bullied in the past two months, and 17% had consumed alcohol. One quarter of this cluster also reported moderate to severe depression symptoms, compared to only 3% of the “good” cluster.
The Need for Improved Mental Health Care Programs
With so many young people experiencing depressive symptoms, targeted mental health care programs are greatly important. A 2022 study in World Psychiatry which examined ways to scale up youth mental health care, concluded that adolescents and young adults have some of lowest access to quality mental health care of any group.³ Because of the fragile nature of mental health disorders and the varying degrees of familiarity with mental health services, young people and their families often have difficulty navigating the health care system for psychiatric services.
The researchers stated that early intervention is needed for young patients with mental health struggles, as it gives them greater potential to not just improve their mental health, but also bolster their physical health down the line. They argued that access to youth mental health care needed to be expanded. Early intervention, increased community awareness and participation, and a lack of emotional and financial stigma are of particular importance, they said.
1. Mental Health Month. Mental Health America. https://www.mhanational.org/mental-health-month. Accessed May 10, 2022.
2. Las-Hayas C, Mateo-Abad M, Vergara I, et al. Relevance of well-being, resilience, and health-related quality of life to mental health profiles of European adolescents: results from a cross-sectional analysis of the school-based multinational UPRIGHT project. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2022;57(2):279-291. doi:10.1007/s00127-021-02156-z
3. McGorry PD, Mei C, Chanen A, Hodges C, Alvarez-Jimenez M, Killackey E. Designing and scaling up integrated youth mental health care. World Psychiatry. 2022;21(1):61-76. doi:10.1002/wps.20938