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Youth Mental Health: Prevention, Support and Intervention

     

Adolescence can be a vulnerable time for mental health concerns. About half of all mental health conditions start by age 14 years and often go undetected and untreated, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences have had an impact on the mental health of people of all ages, including teens, with continued distance learning, isolation and limited sports and activities.

However, proactive preventive interventions can make a difference. A new report from the WHO focuses on “multiple opportunities for health promotion and disease prevention in adolescence, which could benefit young lives in the short and long term.” The newGuidelines on mental health promotive and preventive interventions for adolescents guidance from the WHO calls for implementing preventive psychosocial interventions among youth to help avert or minimize the potential long-term impacts of mental health conditions.

The guidelines identify preventive measures for specific groups of youth, such as those at higher risk of mental health conditions because of poverty or exposure to violence, and also calls for preventive measures targeting adolescents.  Psychosocial interventions can include programs based in school, in the community, in health centers, or at home and may be in person, online, digital or a combination. Examples of the psychosocial interventions include:

  • School-based training for students on mindfulness-based interventions.
  • Targeted education to help students better understand and recognize signs of depression and suicide and how to get help.
  • Resilience-building intervention focused on building protective sources of strength (such as positive friends, healthy activities, generosity) and developing healthy and successful coping skills.

While the current pandemic and distance learning may prevent use of many effective interventions, the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) has recently adapted its youth mental health resources for use by schools with remote learning (Notice. Talk. Act.™ @ School for Distance Learning During COVID-19) and for use at home by families (Notice. Talk. Act.™ At Home).

Notice. Talk. Act.™ At Home helps parents/guardians/caregivers to better understand how they can notice changes in family member’s behavior, when to engage in a conversation, and what potential  steps they should take. Below are a few suggestions from Notice. Talk. Act.™ At Home to help your children and teens.

NOTICE  

  • Look for changes in a child’s behavior that may indicate the child is struggling physically and emotionally. This may include disruptive or withdrawn behavior, putting oneself or others in harm’s way, and extreme disengagement or isolation.
  • Help them understand that this is a difficult time for everyone. Share your struggle when appropriate.

TALK     

  • Trust your gut and TALK about your concerns when you notice changes.
  • To facilitate a conversation, use open-ended questions, affirmations, reflections, and summarizing to show that you care and are interested in their well-being. Pay attention to body language and other hints.
  • Set up time to chat, check-in regularly and follow through.
  • Talk to School Support Team, they are there to support students and families.

ACT    

  • Take appropriately action to connect a child with support services. Check with their school and your community on the availability of support services.
  • When a person in danger or in crisis - Call 9-1-1. Keep the conversation going, if possible. Ensure that the child is still “safe.”
  • When support is needed - connect available support services with your child. If you can, set up a joint meeting with the support services.

Understanding Disruptive Behaviors

The Foundation also offers a resource to help families and community members to understand students’ disruptive behaviors, how schools tend to approach disruptive behaviors and the harmful impacts of zero tolerance policies. Adverse childhood experiences and children’s experiences of racial, ethnic, gender, and cultural biases contribute to children’s behavior and difficulties with social relationships.

Unfortunately, responses to students with disruptive behaviors “often are discrimination, criminalization, and exclusion, particularly for students identified as poor, of color, immigrants, or disabled,” APAF notes. APAF suggests the Notice. Talk. Act.™ at School program as one strategy for addressing students with disruptive or withdrawn behaviors, identifying emerging behavioral health conditions, and offering students support. (View the full resource: What do Disruptive Behaviors Indicate? )

Additional resources and references

     

Patients and Families

 

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