The mental health of teenagers and young adults is affected by various environmental factors, including family and school environment, social and economic status, poverty, and destitution.
Other factors that constitute a threat to young people’s mental health include constant exposure to physical and social violence, abuse, poverty-related stress, drug abuse, and discrimination, among other hardships, as well as the loss of important people in the lives of young people which includes parents and guardians, whether through death or divorce.
Very often, however, the problems encountered in adolescence are the result of an interaction of several factors and cannot be determined by one single factor alone. Mental Health Promotion in this age range can be viewed as a complex and dynamic process dependent on a broad spectrum of policies and practices implemented in schools, other educational centers, families, peer groups, and in public health and social settings. Problems associated with adolescence vary depending on the individual and can range from minor behavioral problems to severely disabling illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, etc. Teenagers and young people are under a lot of pressure to fit into a certain status quo. When the problems that seem less severe do not go away with maturation and are left untreated, they can have long-lasting effects on the social life and the interpersonal relations that young people will have in their adult life. Therefore, the mental health of adolescents and young people is a crucial issue, as it impacts not only the health of this generation who currently fall in this age category but also their future adult years.
The mental health problems that adolescents and young people might encounter interfere with the way they think, feel, and act. These problems limit young people’s ability to be productive and can affect their academic achievement, cause family conflicts, and lead to substance abuse, violence, eating disorders, and sometimes even suicide. In addition to the distress they cause, they can be very costly to families and the community, and the health and social systems.
Mental health as touching teenagers and young adults is still very much marginalized and underfunded, linked with the tendency in some circles to equate ‘mental health’ simply with mental illness and mental problems.
To move towards more positive and inclusive models of mental health that can be developed in sustainable ways, we need to explore ways in which mental health can be promoted through everyday settings such as schools, neighbourhoods, and workplaces as well as through health services.
It is therefore of utmost importance that young people have the opportunity to develop emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually and that an environment is created which helps them to deal with stressful situations such as domestic violence or abuse, parental divorce or separation, school transfer, academic failure, bullying or other stress from peers. A secure family life, keeping active, getting involved, learning new skills, and relaxing are all factors that have a positive impact on the mental well-being of a young person. It is important to understand that mental disorders and mental health problems can affect anyone and appear in families of all social classes and of all backgrounds. Mental health promotion is therefore relevant to everyone as there will most likely be no health without mental health.
• Samuel Jekeli writes from Centre for Social Justice