Primary Sources: Bolstering Mental Health Among Young People

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Photograph of a young person wearing a hoodie.

Many young people need mental health services, but youth from particular groups may be more likely to experience poor mental health. Victims of intimate partner violence, homeless youth, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, for example, are at greater risk of becoming depressed or suicidal, using drugs, or having trouble at school. The latest research presents findings on these populations and suggests ways to help them.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, the Family and Youth Services Bureau or the Administration for Children and Families.)

Mental Health Research Findings” (PDF, 615 KB), published in September, presents results from a cross-section of projects supported by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality between 2007 and 2009. Among the findings, women who suffer abuse use mental health care services more than women who have never been abused, regardless of when the abuse occurred. Children of women who are or have been abused by their partners also seek more mental and other health care than children whose mothers have not been abused. Among depressed adolescents, drug and alcohol use is prevalent and problematic. One in four young adults will suffer from depression between the ages of 18 and 25, which can inhibit independent living skills and cause problems with personal relationships.

Creating positive climates that reduce homophobic teasing can help improve outcomes for lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning youth, report the authors of “LGB and Questioning Students in Schools: The Moderating Effects of Homophobic Bullying and School Climate on Negative Outcomes” (Journal of Youth and Adolescence abstract, 38(7):989-1000, August 2009). In this study, lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning youth reported higher levels of bullying and homophobic victimization than did heterosexual youth. Students who were questioning their sexual orientation reported more bullying, more homophobic victimization, more drug use, more feelings of depression and suicidality, and more truancy than heterosexual,  lesbian, gay or bisexual students. This study also examined how policies and procedures for reporting incidents of in-school harassment and assault influence lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning middle-school students.

Most homeless youth have experienced multiple traumatic events at home and on the street. Traumatized youth who go untreated may develop learning problems, abuse substances, or become depressed, anxious or chronically ill. The authors of “Psychological First Aid for Youth Experiencing Homelessness” (PDF, 1.5 MB), released by the Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership earlier this year, aim to inform direct-care staff working in drop-in centers, shelters and group homes about how to address the needs of homeless youth affected by trauma. The authors discuss the following strategies: 

  • engaging youth rather than overwhelming them when first contacting them;
  • ensuring safety and comfort and lessening youths’ anxiety;
  • providing practical assistance to meet youths’ immediate needs and concerns;
  • connecting youth with constructive activities;
  • helping youth find positive ways to cope; and
  • fostering patience and professional stress management for youth workers.
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