Author: Claudia M. Elsig, MD
The level of happiness in adolescence is in decline. Teenagers are becoming unhappier, increasingly anxious, and more depressed. Worryingly, now more than ever, adolescents are more likely to self-harm, develop an eating disorder, or have suicidal thoughts.
Harvard Medical School warns of a paediatric mental health crisis, calling it a national emergency in the U.S.1 In the UK, more than 400,000 children a month get treated for mental health problems, which shows an unprecedented crisis in child and adolescent well-being.2
And UNICEF reports a worsening mental health situation for Europe’s children, warning that suicide is now the second leading cause of death in Europe among young people.3 Similarly, adolescents’ mental health in the Middle East has been deteriorating.
The teenage mental health crisis is a global one.
Our last blog discussed the causes of the teenage mental health crisis. This blog considers what must be done to solve it.
Strengthening the resilience of young people
Teenage mental health is now a societal issue. When mental health illnesses aren’t addressed during adolescence, they continue into adulthood. As a result, psychological and physical health is affected, and there is a limiting effect on engaging in life’s opportunities. This isn’t just a tragedy for the individual – it has enormous implications for families, society, health systems and the economy.
The issues affecting teenage mental health must be addressed now to prevent a burgeoning crisis in adult mental health. It will require a whole-of-society effort to strengthen the resilience of young people. There is a myriad of solutions to help to achieve this.
The role of parenting
Parents play a critical role in the prevention of mental health problems in teenagers. Numerous studies show that appropriate parental involvement during a child’s life, including the teenage years, positively influences well-being.
Parenting style is a significant factor. Specifically, parental warmth has been shown to positively influence mental well-being, whereas parental rejection and overprotection lower self-esteem and increase psychological inflexibility.4
Overparenting is often disregarded as damaging to a child’s health, but overprotection limits the opportunities children get to deal with anxiety-driven situations. Even with the most well-meaning intentions, overprotecting children can have negative consequences.
Excessive, critical and dismissive parenting impacts self-esteem.
Mental health disorders also tend to run in families. For families and caregivers, this means it is essential to address any problems they have with their own mental health. It is necessary for good role modelling. Don’t be afraid to talk to your children or teens about your mental health. But try to avoid using labels. Substitute words like depressed with sadness and anxiety with fearfulness.
Recognising problems early on
Early identification, accurate diagnosis, and effective treatment of adolescent mental health disorders are essential to prevent the continuation of mental health issues into adulthood.
Parents must educate themselves on how to recognise mental health issues in their children early and know what steps to take if they suspect a problem. All adults in a teenager’s life can help by opening lines of communication, being aware of the signs to look out for, and being mental health role models.
Educators and youth workers should also be on high alert and proactive in teaching young people about self-care strategies.
Adolescence can be a confusing time. It is up to all adults in a teenager’s life to actively listen. The creation of appropriate spaces for communication can facilitate this. It’s important to ask open-ended questions and let teenagers talk at home, in appropriate social situations and in education.
In addition, parents and carers should play an active role in supporting any treatment plan. Research has established that participation by a caregiver in a child’s mental health treatment is directly related to a successful outcome.5
The role of education in protecting mental health
Schools play a vital role in promoting positive mental health and are uniquely positioned to reach all children. In addition, in schools, there are likely to be fewer accessibility barriers to interventions compared to those offered in the community or healthcare systems outside of education.
The sense of community in a school, also termed ‘school connectedness’ is viewed as a significant marker for mental health.6 This refers to relationships with teachers, school staff and peers and reflects how students feel accepted, respected and included.
Research shows that positive school relations, including affiliation with teachers, bond with the school and a sense of community, are positively associated with mental health and life satisfaction.7
Governments and private school educators must review education policies to reflect the growing need for mental health support. There is robust evidence to show that school-based interventions can improve educational outcomes, build resilience and self-esteem, reduce anxiety or depressive symptoms, and prevent violent and aggressive behaviour.
A study on the effectiveness of a school-based, universal mental health programme in six European countries found it enhanced students’ social and emotional competence and prosocial behaviour and decreased internalising and externalising behaviours.8
UNICEF outlines five essential pillars for promoting and protecting mental health in education and learning environments.9 These include:
- Creating an enabling learning environment for positive mental health and well-being
- Guaranteeing access to early intervention and mental health services and support
- Promoting teacher well-being.
- Enhancing MHPSS (Mental Health & Psychosocial Support) capacity in the education workforce
- Ensuring meaningful collaboration between the school, family, and community to build a safe and nurturing learning environment
The value of mental health awareness campaigns
Adolescent mental health is an essential public health issue. Mental health awareness campaigns play a crucial role in helping parents, carers, educators, policymakers and adolescents to develop knowledge and support strategies.
In the UK, for example, inspiring mental health campaigns include Time to Change, and Young Minds. And London’s NHS recently launched a new mental health campaign for young people called London, You Good?
Promoting better self-care
A fundamental starting point for addressing teenage mental health issues stems from enabling adolescents to develop better self-care. While primarily a parenting task, this must also be rooted in governments’ educational policies and public health messaging. In addition, teen mental health can become de-stigmatised if discussions are made commonplace in all extra-curricular activities.
Parents must balance heavy screen time at home with exercise and outdoor activities or walks. Family dinners, even if unmanageable every day, are important – children who eat regularly with their families experience less anxiety, less depression, have more extensive vocabularies, tend to eat healthier and have higher self-esteem.
Improving access to mental health services
One of the most important factors for parents, carers, and young people themselves is knowing when they should seek help from professionals. Governments must improve access to mental health services. In most developed societies, we are conditioned to seek help for physical complaints but not so much for our mental health.
Providing early care can help young people to recover quickly, so they can benefit from their education, build positive relationships, gain access to employment, and ultimately lead more meaningful and productive lives.
Treatment for teenage mental health issues at CALDA
CALDA Clinic offers highly effective therapies for treating mental health disorders in adolescents and young adults. With the CALDA concept, we treat the individual using a tailor-made program based on holistic principles. We work in a solution-oriented manner across several disciplines on different levels. We unearth the causes and treat them, not just the symptoms. With this approach, we can achieve extraordinary results in a short length of time.
We dedicate our time and expertise to one client at a time. If your teenager or young adult needs someone to accompany them, we can accommodate your wishes. Also, within the treatment program is the possibility of individualised schooling with private teachers, so that your child does not lose out on education during their time at CALDA.
Contact us for a private non-binding discussion. We will be happy to explain our programs and the next steps.
- McCarthy, C. 8 Mar 2022. The mental health crisis among children and teens: How parents can help. Harvard Health Publishing. Child and Teen Health. [Accessed online 12Dec22].
- Website: Healthcareconferencesuk.co.uk Record high number of children treated for Mental Health problems in UK. [Accessed online 12Dec22].
- UNICEF Press Release. 6Oct2021. A worsening mental health situation for Europe’s children. [Accessed online 12Dec22].
- Biao P, et al. 13 Oct 2021. Parenting Style and Adolescent Mental Health: The Chain Mediating Effects of Self-Esteem and Psychological Inflexibility. Frontiers of Psychology.
- Haine-Schlagel, R., Walsh, N.E. 01 Mar 2015. A Review of Parent Participation Engagement in Child and Family Mental Health Treatment. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev 18, 133–150 (2015).
- Widnall E, et al. 01 Jun 2022. Impact of School and Peer Connectedness on Adolescent Mental Health and Well-Being Outcomes during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Longitudinal Panel Survey. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 19(11):6768
- Cavioni V, et al. 18 Aug 2021. Adolescents’ Mental Health at School: The Mediating Role of Life Satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology 2021; 12: 720628.
- Cefai C, et al. 08 Aug 2022. The effectiveness of a school-based, universal mental health programme in six European countries. Frontiers in Psychology.
- UNICEF A briefing note for national governments. Sept 2022. Promoting and protecting mental health in schools and learning environments. [Accessed online 06 Jan 2023].