New research reveals that 20-50% of today’s teens have mental health issues or illness impacting their daily lives. Further study notes that of these, 60-90% are not receiving needed treatment! Unmet mental health needs have been associated with criminality and incarceration, perpetration and victimization of violence and abuse, family discord, poverty, and suicide. This is especially true during the adolescent years and needs to be addressed immediately.

Recent shootings, suicides, gun violence, and attention on bullying warrants that nurses and other health professionals turn their attention to this important public health issue. Experts tell us that it is during the childhood and adolescent years that we develop trust, conflict management, and learn to deal with others and stress in our lives. As noted in Chapter 7 of my book, Fast Facts on Adolescent Health for Nursing and Health Professionals: A Care Guide in a Nutshell, the teen years are characterized by identity formation, the development of gender and sexual identities, and establishing meaningful relationships. We also know that oftentimes it is during the teen years that mental health issues become most apparent and may manifest themselves in the areas of high risk behavior, violence, dangerous activities with other teens, and self-destructive acts.

Society needs to reaffirm the importance of children and teens in today’s society and divert services, funds, and resources to supporting childhood and teen mental health. School-based counselors that are staffed in adequate numbers to accommodate the needs of their children, school-based wellness centers that are able to provide holistic healthcare for teens and other students, and teen-oriented mental health services may be important steps to providing community-based resources. Family-based care must be emphasized to ensure healthy habits and coping in the home. We must work to reduce the stigma of mental health issues and illness and speak up when we recognize that a teen is in trouble, verbalizing violent tendencies against themselves or others, or are victims in their homes and schools. We need to appreciate the impact early life experiences may have on later health and behavior and adopt trauma-informed care principles in our interactions with teens. We must refer teens and families who need it to qualified, teen-friendly, and developmentally-appropriate services. We must delineate the preventative factors that support healthy growth and development during the teen years. Finally, nursing and health professionals must role model responsible, caring, and understanding assessment and management of mental health issues for others to emulate in a world having both positive and negative forces impacting today’s teens!

For more on teen health issues, read my book: Fast Facts on Adolescent Health for Nursing and Health Professionals.