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Youth Mental Health

If you are a young person going through a crisis or a concerned parent, this article is for you.

The importance of detecting mental distress in youth and young adults.

Mental health problems often develop during adolescence. The sooner people get help, the more likely they are to overcome their challenges as adults. Youth and young adults may not have the information that they need to get well or they may have misconceptions about the way they feel. Misunderstanding and discrimination often aggravate a person's state of mind, overall mental health, and well-being.

Professional help may not always be readily available to young individuals — they may not know how to ask for help, where to go, who to talk with, or what to say. The sooner a person gets help, the more likely they are to get well.

If you are a teen or young adult.

Life can be hard and at times overwhelming. If you are a teen or young adult, you may be facing some challenges and doubts, regardless of your personal background and family dynamics. But remember — you are not alone.

If you are going through a crisis, feel anxious most of the time, believe that you may be experiencing more challenges that you can handle, or feel overwhelmed by life's problems, that doesn't necessarily mean that you have a mental issue.

However, if the situation goes unchecked for long periods of time, it may result in mental distress, emotional breakdown, and other serious consequences like isolation, hopelessness, and depression.

The good news — there's help.

People who seek help can and do recover and so can you. Mental illness is not who you are. It is a disease that can be cured. Even though you may be reluctant to talk about your problems, the truth is that your problems are still there and sooner or later you will have to deal with them.

Think of it as a pressure cooker — your feelings have to be processed and released somehow. The more you wait and try to push your feelings down, the more explosive the release will be. A healthy way to manage your problems is seeking professional help.

First, you have to remember that there are people who care and can help you. These persons can be a trusted family member who cares about you, a teacher at school who is willing to help, a school counselor, a coach, a doctor, or a priest/rabbi/pastor/leader at your church, temple or spiritual place of worship. Reach out for help by telling them that you are going through difficult times and would like to speak with a counselor who could help you.

Keep in mind that some people you seek help from may not have all the answers or the ability to connect you with the resources that you need. Do not give up — keep talking and reaching out until you get well and feel better again. Think of this as your internal process of self-growth and discovery. It is a journey that requires patience and resiliency. You can do it!

You can always access the following resources for immediate help:

If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm: Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or in Spanish at 1-888-628-9454. You can also go to their website at

If you are faced with a medical emergency: Dial 9-1-1. 

If you are a parent or adult who cares.

Sometimes parents may have blinders on and may not see the warning signs of mental health problems and substance abuse in their children. If you know a teen or young adult who may be experiencing a drug or alcohol problem, or mental distress, there are things that you can do to help.

Important issues to keep in mind when talking to youth:

  • Learn to recognize when someone may be experiencing mental health distress or substance abuse challenges.

  • Have effective conversations with youth about mental health and risk of suicide.

  • Encourage people to talk honestly about the way they are feeling and knowing how to respond when someone shares that they are not feeling well or are not doing good.

  • Know how to spot and read non-verbal communication.

  • Tell them that you care.

  • Let them know that you are concerned.

  • Be warm, trustworthy, and nonjudgmental.

  • Let them know you're available to listen whenever they need to talk.

  • If you don't have all the answers, tell them you can find out and get back to them.

  • Learn about local resources in your community.

  • Once you get them to talk, help connect them to treatment and resources.

  • Know that behaviors like withdrawal, irritability, and bad temper may be a response to trauma or crisis- remain friendly.

  • Offer support in whatever form seems right, including small things like a hug or having coffee together.

  • Talk to the person as an equal.

  • Don't trivialize the person's feelings or minimize their experience.

  • If the person wants help, offer your support and connect them to local resources.

  • If at any time the person becomes suicidal, or begins abusing drugs or alcohol, seek professional help.

Warning signs of mental illness:

  • Frequent sadness or changes in mood or behavior.

  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns.

  • Not wanting to go to school or work.

  • Fighting with family and friends.

  • Drug or alcohol abuse.

  • Feelings of hopelessness.

  • Feeling confused, angry, forgetful, edgy, or upset.

  • Wanting to hurt oneself of others.

  • Hearing voices.

  • Isolation or acting distant.

  • Sharing thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

Warning signs of substance abuse (alcohol and other drugs):

  • Sudden weight loss or gain.

  • Unhealthy appearance.

  • Frequently missing school or work.

  • Money problems.

  • Changes in friends, hangouts, or hobbies.

  • Getting into fights, accidents, or breaking the law.

  • Striking change in personality or behavior.



- National Institute on Drug Abuse (2013). The Science of Addiction.

-Texas Department of State Health Services. Helping a young person in need: supporting teens and young adults with mental health and substance use issues.

-Grant Halliburton Foundation. Know where to get help.

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