Adolescence is a transitional phase of development and growth between childhood and adulthood. The World Health Organization defines ‘adolescents’ as 10 to 19-year-olds, which also falls into their definition of ‘young people’ who are between 10 and 24 years of age.
Young people experience a variety of physical and psychological changes that cause behavioural ambiguity (i.e. they may not know how to behave or feel). As a consequence, young people who are exposed to poverty, abuse, poor parental engagement, or violence are vulnerable to mental health problems.
Adolescence involves hormonal, neurodevelopmental, psychosocial and emotional changes and increased cognitive and intellectual capacities. The latter stages of adolescence involve the development of reasoning, rational judgments, and logical, moral and abstract thinking.
This period also involves the development of social and emotional habits that influence mental wellbeing, for example:
healthy sleeping patterns
healthy coping strategies
problem-solving and interpersonal skills
emotion regulation skills.
Supportive environments at home, school, and the wider community are indispensable. Exposure to adverse events and poor psychological wellbeing can result in lasting negative consequences in adulthood.
Some examples of factors that cause stress in adolescence are:
a desire for greater autonomy
pressure to conform
exploration of sexual identity
increased use of technology
the disparity between lived reality and perceptions for the future
the quality of home life and relationships with peers
violence (harsh parenting/bullying)
sexual violence/abuse and neglect.
Additionally, young people with mental health conditions are vulnerable to:
poor physical health
human rights violations
social exclusion and isolation
stigma (acts as a barrier to seeking help).
Young People in Crisis
Depression is the fourth leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents aged 15 to 19 years and the fifteenth for those aged 10 to 14 years.
Anxiety is the ninth leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents aged 15 to 19 years and sixth for those aged 10 to 14 years.
In 2016, an estimated 62,000 adolescents died as a result of self-harm.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.
90% of the world’s adolescents live in low or medium-income countries, with 90% of adolescent suicides occurring in these regions.
In 2016, the prevalence of heavy episodic drinking among adolescents aged 15 to 19 years was 13.6%, with males being most at risk.
In 2018, 4.7% of 15 to 16-year-olds reported using cannabis at least once.
Many adult smokers have their first cigarette before the age of 18.
In 2016, interpersonal violence was ranked the second leading cause of death among older adolescent males.
Promotion and Prevention
The interventions (treatments or strategies) presently available aim to enhance a young person’s ability to regulate emotions, build resilience, promote supportive social interactions, and provide alternatives to risk-taking behaviours. The early detection and treatment of adolescent mental health conditions are essential, especially in low-resourced regions.
Adolescents (10 to 19-year-olds) make up a sixth of the global population.
Most mental health conditions present by 14 years of age but are often undetected.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15 to 19-year-olds.
Depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.
References and Resources:
World Health Organization. 2020. Adolescent Health and Development. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/adolescent-health-and-development
World Health Organization. 2020. Adolescent Mental Health. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health