Stress experienced by teens and young adults has tremendously increased in the past few years. Besides the Covid-19 pandemic that disrupted group activities with classmates and friends, 109 school shootings have been documented since 2018. Indeed, an estimated 3 million youth in the US are annually exposed to a gunfire in schools in the US. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that young people aged 13-23 are currently experiencing a mental health crisis. One consequence of chronic stress is depression, which can lead substance abuse to self-medicate. The following are 22 facts and statistics on teen and young adult mental health that you should know.
- Over 60% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment, and nearly 3 million youth in the US are living with diagnosed severe depression (per the nonprofit Mental Health America). Depression is strongly-linked to suicide attempts in teens and young adults, so receipt of mental health care is critical in chronically-depressed young people to avoid preventable self-harm.
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that alcohol misuse often accompanies uncertainty about the future in teens and young adults. Likewise, loneliness, anxiety, and depression – such as fostered by the Covid-19 pandemic – increase the risk for both alcohol and drug abuse in teens and young adults.
- Nearly 32% of adolescents in the US have an anxiety disorder, and this can impact physical health as well as mental health. Chronic anxiety can also lead to the development of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is featured by intensive obsessions or compulsions that can interfere with normal day-to-day functioning.
- According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, most youth living with OCD – classified as a major mental illness – can be effectively-treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Recently, a treatment approach deemed especially effective is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is a problem-oriented therapeutic approach that typically involves weekly sessions with a skilled therapist.
- Treatment in a residential setting rather than on an outpatient basis is particularly helpful for teens and young adults suffering from both a major mental illness (such as OCD or Bipolar Disorder) and substance abuse. One treatment center aimed at teens and young adults that specialized in providing such treatment is Newport Academy (with numerous sites throughout the US).
- One in every seven high school students has reported misusing prescription opioids at some point in their lives. This abuse often starts with using opioid medication prescribed for a parent. Heroin injection often begins in opioid-abusing people who were no longer able to obtain prescription opioids to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
- Substance abuse in teenagers often begins with using alcohol and/or drugs in order to socially “fit in” with friends or gain acceptance into a new social group – and peer pressure is far more the primary reason for abusing substances among adolescents than among adults (according to the US Indian Health Service).
- Substance abuse withdrawal symptoms can occur when an addicted teen, young adult, or any other person suddenly stops using the substance after a prolonged time period of addiction to it. An alcohol withdrawal symptom that can be life-threatening is Delirium tremens, as this is often accompanied by brain-harming seizures.
- The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reports that only 63% of all mental health facilities (both inpatient and outpatient) in the US provide services to adolescents aged 13-17. This is compared to 87% for young adults, and 84% for older adults between the ages of 25-64.
- Depression is strongly-linked to worsened performance and/or dropping out of school in teens and young adults, with only an ability to acquire low-wage employment as a consequence. In turn, this can lead to utilizing alcohol to self-treat the depression – and result in alcoholism that can worsen overall quality of life.
- Adolescence or young adulthood is typically when Bipolar Disorder begins, with 18 as the mean age of onset. It is classified as a major mental illness, and symptoms typically worsen without mental health treatment. This disorder was formerly termed Manic-Depressive Disorder, as many afflicted people cyclically experience manic periods followed by depression.
- Four categories of Bipolar Disorder are found in teens, young adults, and other afflicted people. In Bipolar II, afflicted people experience less severe mania than in those with Bipolar I. Periodic but intense depressive episodes are often the most apparent Bipolar II symptom, so afflicted teens are more likely to be misdiagnosed with clinical depression.
- Teens suffering from a mental health disorder often experience problems in their interpersonal relationships with peers and can become socially-isolated. Likewise, they have an increased risk of becoming the victims of bullying. In turn, this lead to further self-isolation that can interfere with learning the social skills typically acquired in adolescence.
- Around 160,000 teenagers skip school each day because of bullying (per the nonprofit Why Incorporated). Meanwhile, the extensive use of social media platforms by teens has resulted in a major increase in cyber-bullying. One effect of bullying can be depression but another can be the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- A research study of adolescent students with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), showed that 73% had decreased academic performance, 35% had difficulty concentrating, and 17% had difficulty remembering things learned at school or at home. PTSD is often the consequence of experiencing violence or witnessing violence, but other traumas can also cause it.
- Chronic depression is often a co-disorder in teens and young adults with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Around one-half of people experiencing PTSD following some type of traumatic event recover within months, but others can have symptoms that last longer so require more intensive mental health intervention to relieve the symptoms.
- Teens and young adults addicted to injection drugs are far more likely to engage in prostitution than their counterparts who are not addicted to injection drugs. Moreover, a research study revealed that 70% of commercially sexually-exploited (CSE) youth reported abusing substances – and CSE youth often display symptoms of PTSD.
- Among homeless teens and young adults, the rate of traumatic past experiences is high, and 77% reported experiencing physical abuse, sexual abuse, or both. Meanwhile, 89% of homeless youth aged 16-19 met the diagnostic criteria for one or more mental health disorders. However, homeless youth are also among the least likely to receive treatment.
- Teen and young adult injection drug users who share needles are at heightened risk of HIV infection, and 30% of all new HIV infections worldwide are in intravenous (IV) drug users. Therefore, substance abuse treatment is crucial in teens and young adults who inject drugs to prevent further HIV transmission.
- The social stigma of having a mental illness can lead teens and young adults (as well as their families) to avoid seeking treatment for their mental health disorders. Despite the reality that one in 10 youth suffer from a mental health problem, less than one-third of them attempt to find treatment due to fear of stigmatization.
- The average age of Schizophrenia onset is the late teens to early 20s in males, and late 20s to early 30s in females (per the National Alliance on Mental Illness). Withdrawing socially from others and unusual thoughts and suspicions are common symptoms in teenagers, and the foremost mental illness linked to homelessness in adults is Schizophrenia.
- Up to 45% of teens and young adults with mental health disorders have a co-occurring substance abuse problem, and having a dual-diagnosis of mental illness and a substance abuse disorder can require inpatient treatment before appropriate care is received in an outpatient setting.
Predicted Worsening of Teen and Young Adult Mental Health in Year Ahead
Both parental stress and excessive social media use are predictors of worsened mental health in youth, as described in a 2021 article in Current Opinions in Psychiatry. If you – or your teenage (or young adult) offspring – is becoming more anxious or depressed, it is important to seek mental health services before this leads to a mental health crisis with life-long consequences.