Adolescent Mental Health in a Rapidly Changing World

October 10th, 2018 is World Mental Health Day

Here are the top 10 tips for looking after your mental health, according to The Mental Health Foundation:

1. Talk about your feelings (with people who are likely to listen and not judge)

2. Exercise regularly (30 mins a day, 5 days a week)

3. Eat well (lots of vegetables and minimal processed food or foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fats)

4. Drink sensibly (lots of water is best, but a little bit of coconut water and vegetable juice is good too)

5. Keep in touch with loved ones

6. Ask for help when you need it or could use it

7. Take a break (rest and play and socializing and getting outside into nature is great)

8. Do something you’re good at (accomplishment and achievements or mastery over something helps us to feel good)

9. Accept who you are (especially the things you can’t change about yourself)

10. Care for others (help out at home, in the community, with strangers. Essentially, try to be kind to others and appreciative of nice things they do for you)

boy wearing green crew neck shirt jumping from black stone on seashore

Photo by ajay bhargav GUDURU on

The theme for World Mental Health Day in 2018 is:

“Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World”

Adolescence has always been a time full of change, with puberty, hormonal and bodily changes, new schools and universities and friendship groups, and starting a job or dating or maybe even moving out of the family home.

The rapid rate of technological growth is complicating this process for most adolescents by accelerating the amount of change and new experiences that they are exposed to.

With this new technology, we now have more ways to stay in touch, but this isn’t always a good thing.  Bullying and social exclusion can be instigated and perpetuated 24 hours a day, resulting in a sense of no escape for those being targeted. Due to the lack of regulation and adolescents being more technologically savvy than their parents, most adolescents have access to much adult-only information at the swipe of a finger and click of a button. Furthermore, a lot of the data collected on the internet is stored forever, meaning that “a little bit of fun” or one small mistake can have severe consequences for the future of that individual.

Adolescence was already a tricky time for me. I had some massive highs, with great friends, fun nights, and lots of boundary-pushing and mischief. I also had some big lows, with periods of intense sadness, social anxiety and a few traumatic events thrown in there. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Check out these critical facts from the World Health Organisation:

  • 1-in-6 people in the world are between 10 and 19 years of age.
  • Mental health conditions account for 16% of the global burden of disease in people aged 10-19 years.
  • 50% of all mental illness begins by the age of 14.
  • Most cases of mental illness go undetected and untreated.
  • Depression is the third leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds worldwide, following only road accidents.
  • Risky behaviours, including substance abuse, unhealthy eating or sleeping patterns, interpersonal violence, dangerous driving and unsafe sex often begin during adolescence.
  • Exposure to poverty, disaster, abuse or violence can make adolescents more vulnerable to mental health problems.


As seen above, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for adolescents and 2nd leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. The important takeaway message is that a lot of these deaths can be prevented, through better awareness, community support, and specialist services to assist those in need.


Prevention of mental health difficulties begins with a better understanding of what the main issues are and what you can do about them. Here are the main adolescent mental health issues, taken from the second issue of WHO’s mhGAP-IG:


  • Persistent sadness or depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that are normally enjoyable
  • Anxiety or several physical symptoms with no clear cause
  • Low energy, fatigue, sleep problems, appetite problems
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Thoughts about suicide or death

Self-harm/ Suicide

  • Extreme hopelessness and despair
  • Current thought, plan or act of self-harm/suicide, or history of this behaviour
  • Chronic pain or extreme emotional distress is also a big risk factor

Substance Abuse

  • Appearing affected by alcohol or other substances: the smell of alcohol or cannabis, slurred speech, sedated, erratic behaviour
  • Deterioration of social functioning or academic performance
  • Unkempt appearance or unexplained injuries


  • Unlikely to be present until late adolescence/ early adulthood
  • Marked behavioural changes, including decreased activity and neglecting responsibilities at home, school, work or socially
  • Agitated, aggressive behaviour
  • Fixed false beliefs not shared by others in the person’s culture
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that are not there
  • Lack of realisation that one is having mental health problems

Other Mental and Behavioural Issues Prevalent During Adolescence

  • Attention deficit disorder (ADD): Inattentive, can’t concentrate for long periods of time, easily distracted, difficulty completing school work
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): All of the above symptoms, plus too active, can’t sit still, disruptive in class, often getting into trouble
  • Conduct disorder: Repeatedly defiant, disobedient and aggressive behaviour, rule or law-breaking behaviour at home, school or in the community

If you notice these signs in an adolescent and it is starting to cause them a lot of distress or significant impairment in their social, home or school life, help is available. The type of support will depend on your country, but there often is both online and in-person services available.

In the UK for example, offers email or online chat services about any problem big or small if you are under 19, or if you are under 25 and want to email or web chat.

In Australia, offers email and WebChat on all of the following topics:

  • Peer pressure and fitting in
  • making friends or fighting with friends
  • cyberbullying and staying safe online
  • body image issues or eating disorders
  • exam stress and anxiety
  • leaving home or life after school
  • coping with emotions and expressing your feelings
  • dealing with conflict and talking with your parents
  • self-harm and suicidal thoughts
  • depression and loneliness
  • emotional or physical or sexual abuse and neglect
  • questions about the harmful consequences of porn
  • self-esteem or respect
  • starting at a new school
  • dating and breakups
  • any form of discrimination
  • gender or sexual identity or questions about sex or pregnancy
  • drugs and alcohol
  • looking after yourself
  • getting along with your family and dealing with family rules
  • how to ask for help
  • hearing voices
  • taking risks and partying safely
  • starting work and managing your money

Childhood obesity is the most significant predictor for adulthood obesity, and 50% of mental health conditions begin by the age of 14. What both of these statistics indicate is that the earlier we can help our children to incorporate healthy lifestyle choices in their lives, the easier it will be to maintain these healthy behaviours and prevent the onset of mental and physical health problems in later adolescence and early adulthood:


By prioritising adolescent mental health, it will not only help the individuals being supported, but it will also help the economy and community at large, both now and into the future:


Please help to share these messages if you think they could help someone, and have a great World Mental Health Day in 2018!


Dr Damon Ashworth

Clinical Psychologist