Young People and Mental/Sexual Health in a Changing World

Today, October 10, marks World Mental Health Day. This year’s focus, as declared by the World Health Organization (WHO), is on adolescents and young adults.

Young people, usually categorized as around 10-18 years old according to the American Psychological Association, are going through a multitude of changes at this point in their lives. Along with puberty, many teens experience major life events such as moving and changing schools, starting higher education, or beginning a new job. These can be great causes of stress and apprehension which, left unrecognized and unmanaged, can lead to mental illness.

Unlike the generations before them, current adolescents are growing up more connected than ever before. In the US, current technology certainly provides many benefits: help with school, ideas for creative projects, staying in touch with friends or family who are now far away, etc. But there also resides an underlying pressure to constantly remain connected and maintain an online presence, for better or for worse.

Keep in mind, technology is only one small element that can affect mental health. We must also take into consideration a teen’s potential exposure to social changes such as poverty, abuse or violence.

According to WHO, half of all mental illness begins by age 14. Most cases go undiagnosed resulting in depression, suicide (the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year olds), harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs, and risky behaviors like unsafe sex, dangerous driving, and eating disorders.

There is a growing recognition of the importance of mental health, especially among young adults. WHO’s advice is that prevention begins with better understanding. The goal is to have adults (such as parents or teachers) be able to recognize early warning signs and symptoms of mental illness and be able to show teens life skills to cope with challenges they might have at home, school, or elsewhere.

World Health Day coincides with the ongoing National Family Sexuality Education Month. The ability to be open about sexual and mental health is vital. As we’ve seen, most teens in the US receive their sex education from friends and family (and health care providers to a lesser extent). That means for many there is not strong, formal education in school and what they hear at home might be the only topics they learn about.

As parents, it’s important to be open with your children about the risks of unsafe sex and what precautions can be taken. As with mental health, giving your children the right skills to deal with a situation will help them grow up with healthy attitudes and values regarding their mental and sexual health. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding their sexual health or need condoms and information on STDs, please feel free to contact Caring Communities.

The truth is: young adult’s mental and sexual health are going to continue developing, whether you talk about them or not, so why not open the path to communication?