Promoting Teen Mental Well-being
The teenage years have always been emotionally challenging. Recently, however, rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation have grown rapidly. In 2021 the CDC reported that more than 4 in 10 (42%) high school students felt persistently sad or hopeless and 22% of students seriously considered attempting suicide.
What is Causing the Rise in Mental Health Issues?
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly exacerbated concerning trends in teen mental health by increasing isolation, disrupting critical support services, and heightening financial strains on families, but the mental health crisis was growing long before the pandemic.
Social media is a significant contributor to the decline in teen and young adult mental health. Social platforms can enable cyberbullying, promote depressive symptoms or negative social comparison, provide an unhealthy outlet for teens struggling with issues like eating disorders or self-harm, and more.
Mass shootings have also become regular occurrences in recent decades. The trauma, grief, and feelings of worry that accompany those events certainly can impact mental health. Today’s young people may also be worrying about global factors like climate change and political polarization which can cause mental distress.
On top of all this, the normal challenges of growing up still exist too. Learning social skills, finding their identity, managing academics, dealing with rejection, and building resilience remain potentially stressful parts of the adolescent experience and can be factors in mental health.
Challenges Gaining Access to Mental Health Care
Teens who are struggling with mental health challenges may not be getting care for a variety of reasons including:
- Stigma. There is still stigma surrounding mental illness and seeking treatment, which deters teens from opening up about their struggles or asking for help early on. They may keep their pain to themselves because they fear judgment from friends and family and they may feel embarrassed.
- Lack of providers. There is a systemic shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists and therapists, leading to long wait times for appointments for those teens that do seek help. For minorities, the lack of diversity in providers may also be a limitation in getting connected with the right care.
- Financial barriers. Mental health services can be prohibitively expensive, especially for uninsured, low-income, or marginalized groups. Co-pays, high deductibles, coverage limits, and policy loopholes create affordability issues.
- Transportation obstacles. Getting to and from appointments regularly can be logistically difficult for teens who can’t drive themselves and rely on others for transportation.
- General awareness. Many teens aren’t aware of the warning signs of declining mental health and may not know where to start to get help.
Providing Access to Digital Care to Lower Barriers
While there are complex challenges surrounding teen mental health, access barriers are certainly a key factor. There are long waitlists and high costs associated with face-to-face counseling. One way to lower that barrier is to offer evidence-based digital solutions, which are immediately available and provide vital access to mental health support—24 hours per day.
Research shows that internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can significantly benefit teenage mental health. It is a proven therapeutic approach designed specifically to teach practical coping skills for addressing thought and behavior patterns underlying issues like anxiety and depression. Digital CBT is delivered via engaging app interfaces, which aligns well with this tech-savvy demographic. These programs can achieve good adoption rates and symptom improvement among teens.
As concerning as the current teen mental health statistics may be, technology-enabled CBT innovations provide reasons to be hopeful. The time is now to tackle the teen mental health emergency head-on with scalable solutions.
Learn more about how Learn to Live’s digital mental health care program is connecting teens to evidence-based resources and tools: Girls Inc. Launches New Program to Help Girls’ Mental Health: