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Mental Health in Teens: A Burgeoning Crisis

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Mental Health in Teens

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.



A pandemic swept across the globe from 2020 to 2023, causing everyone to become mindful of their health. This situation made people realize the importance of both physical and mental health. The world is already facing a global epidemic of mental health disorders, and the pandemic has only brought the tip of the iceberg to the surface.

Shockingly, statistics reveal that about 20% of young people worldwide suffer from mental illnesses. However, in India, only 7.3% of its 365 million young people report facing such issues.

Studies have shown that depression and affective disorders are prevalent in young people, with clinic-based studies indicating a range of 1.2% to 21%, school-based studies indicating a range of 3% to 68%, and community studies indicating a range of 0.1% to 6.94%. In India, only one incidence study has been conducted, which estimated the incidence to be 1.6%. The 2021 MHA report highlights that youth between the ages of 11 and 17 are most likely to experience moderate-to-severe depression when screened for mental health conditions. Globally, one in every seven, 10–19-year-olds is affected by a mental disorder, which represents 13% of the global burden of disease.

In light of this, we interviewed a few parents, teens, and psychiatrists to understand how lifestyle today is shaping a teen's mental health in India.

Psychiatrists said, “Teens today have to face peer pressure, stress due to competitive exams, and image stress due to social media." Hormonal changes add to their existing confusion in navigating this world.”. Additionally, teenagers have become highly image-conscious, and they get upset easily. The COVID-19 pandemic has also negatively impacted children, causing increased screen time, disrupted routines, and exposure to fear. Psychiatrists also mentioned further that the current school modules are not effective in solving the problem.

Today's parents also face challenges in communicating effectively with their teenagers. Many of them complain that their children prefer to keep to themselves, leading to conflict during conversations.

Teens expressed to us, "Parents cannot comprehend what we are trying to say; sometimes we just need an ear for our problems. This adds to the chaos and adds to the already existing stresses.

Shreya had to move cities in her teens, which drastically affected her academics. Shifting from Mumbai to Pune took a toll on her mental health. Neither did she like the new school nor her peers. She was always finding reasons to bunk school. She would fake stomach aches and headaches just to escape a day at school. She became extremely quiet and isolated and always

retreated to her room if any relatives happened to visit their family. After a year and half, her parents took her to a psychologist. She started therapy sessions. Few improvements were seen in her behavior. A major change was noticed only after she shifted her school. She made a few friends in her new school. She also became interactive and started participating in extracurricular activities. This had a huge impact on her academics and her overall personality.

It is imperative to note that the pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty, though this problem existed way before the pandemic brought it to the surface. We seek prompt medical attention for physical illness. Shouldn't mental illness require a similar action? In India that does not seem to be the case because people often don't treat it like any other illness.

Their approach on mental illness can be influenced by a number of factors such as personal knowledge and beliefs about mental illness and treatments, interactions with those who suffer from mental illness, cultural prejudices, media coverage, and familiarity with institutional policies and past restrictions.

When these attitudes are positive, they can encourage helpful and inclusive behaviors but if they are negative, the result may be avoidance, exclusion from daily activities, exploitation, and discrimination.

However, teenagers may sometimes experience feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress, which can leave parents feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to help.

Ashok had been suffering from depression for a while now. His parents, being worried about his aloof behavior, took him to their local temple instead of taking him to a mental health professional. Their reason being it was not a real disease requiring medical attention. The chief priest had informed Ashok’s parents that possession by evil spirits is the cause of his change in behavior.

It is imperative to shed a positive light on mental illness and reduce stigma so that individuals feel comfortable seeking appropriate care and support.

2.Possible causes as to why there is an emerging mental health crisis in India.

Public stigma :

Public stigma is the reaction that the general population has towards people with mental illness. Several themes describe misconceptions about mental illness and corresponding stigmatizing attitudes. Media analyses describe three: People with mental illness are homicidal maniacs who need to be feared; they have childlike perceptions of the world that should be marveled; or they are responsible for their illness because they have weak character.

Experiencing Social Distance:

The impact of social distancing on individuals' lives

can range from fear and anxiety to the development of obsessive-compulsive disorders due to fear of infection. Moreover, children are also affected by social distancing, as they encounter news about the pandemic on television and social media, while they are also capable of listening in on parents’ conversations. The effects of social distancing on mental health range from increased attention to injury and the virus’ death toll to poor understanding and decreased decision-making abilities, which may hinder control of the epidemic.

Hesitancy In Seeking Help Due To Concerns About Confidentiality, Peer Pressure, Self-Reliance:

Negative experiences with mental health professionals perceived to be discriminatory and

discrimination experienced at the hands of others because of having a mental illness might

deter individuals from seeking treatment.

One of the biggest reasons people don’t seek therapy? “They’re afraid they’ll be judged,” says therapists. They further added, “A person who seeks therapy is considered weak and mentally unstable, and people often think there’s something wrong with them.”

Limited Awareness of available Services :

India has less than 4,000 mental health professionals. We have 3 psychiatrists for every 1 lakh people. In India’s health budget, mental healthcare costs account for a miniscule 0.06% India's National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) reports a treatment gap for common mental disorders.

Social Media :

Social media has a reinforcing nature. Using it activates the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, a “feel-good chemical” linked to pleasurable activities such as sex, food, and social interaction. The platforms are designed to be addictive. They are associated with anxiety and depression and even physical ailments. Missing experiences can create anxiety and depression. When people look online and see they’re excluded from an activity, it can affect thoughts and feelings, and can affect them physically. The earlier teens start using social media, the greater impact the platforms have on their mental health.

Loneliness :

Loneliness (whether temporary or ongoing) during someone's teenage years increases their risk of a number of negative outcomes, including poor mental health, self-harm, compulsive mobile phone use, and unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking.The study conducted by King's IoPPN established that participants who experienced loneliness were at greater risk of negative outcomes compared to those that never experienced it. By 18, those who had undergone periods of loneliness in the last six years were the most likely to experience problems such as depression and anxiety, as well lower levels of life satisfaction and quality of sleep.

3. Recommendations

Today, various solutions are available to tackle mental health issues faced by teens, and they are classified based on the severity of the affliction. For mild symptoms, one can gain knowledge about the condition by being aware of the situation and making specific lifestyle changes, such as performing regular physical exercises, undergoing psychological therapy with a mental health professional, or opting for online e-therapies.

Psychologists currently prescribe certain patterns of behavior, like positive self-talk, assertiveness, and self-compassion, while conversing with the child to address these symptoms. Let us delve deep to understand them more explicitly.

Psychological treatments and medication are effective ways to treat depression. These treatments can help individuals alter their thought patterns and improve their coping abilities to manage life's stressors and conflicts. Psychological therapies identify and change unhelpful behaviors and thoughts, ultimately helping individuals maintain their well-being. There are different types of psychological treatments available including cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), behavior therapy, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

CBT is one of the most commonly used psychological therapies for depression. It helps individuals with depression identify and change their negative thought patterns while enhancing their coping skills to handle stressful situations. Psychotherapy is also used to treat generalized anxiety disorders, with a focus on anxiety as an outgrowth of significant relationships. For children with severe forms of depression such as bipolar disorder and psychosis, medication is generally used, which may include mood stabilizers, antipsychotic drugs, and antidepressants.

Antidepressants, such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), and some tricyclic antidepressants, can be beneficial. The duration of antidepressant treatment depends on the severity of the condition and how the individual responds to treatment. Some individuals may only require antidepressants for six to twelve months, while others may need longer-term medication. But, antidepressant medication should not be abruptly stopped, and it must be done gradually under the supervision of a doctor's recommendation.

After analyzing the responses from parents, teens, and psychologists, some recommendations have been proposed to help improve relationships and overcome the challenges faced.

The idea is to improve school participation in children's mental health and to increase the awareness related to the issue among students.

It can be implemented at schools in the following manner.

Schools and teens should work towards fostering strong bonds with parents, giving rise to a culture of honesty and openness. In addition, schools should establish anonymous helpline services and encourage the creation of peer support groups. Increasing mental health awareness and normalizing seeking timely treatment when needed can also be helpful. It is important to provide immediate medical assistance and implement a buddy system which pairs each student with a senior individual for mentoring, discussing issues, and alerting parents or teachers of any serious concerns that may arise. If the symptoms are moderate to severe, it is advisable to seek professional intervention, including medication and psychological therapies.

Mental health professionals or therapists come in handy to provide the necessary guidance and support during such difficult moments.

We should keep in mind that maintaining anonymity as mental health is a very delicate issue for the student. Ensuring that teachers are actively trained to identify symptoms in kids, providing them encouragement, guidance to seek treatment and not shame them.

Parents must establish strong and healthy relationships with their children acknowledging a child’s anxiety is crucial in dealing with their fears.

We recommend parents to adopt a few measures.

It is essential for parents to spend quality time with their teenagers and schedule regular check-ins. Seeking immediate medical support is necessary. Instead of comparing their children with others, parents should provide support and encouragement, actively listen to them, and participate in family activities. It is crucial to avoid overemphasizing exam results as a child's sole measure of worth. Parents can support the mental well-being of their children by forming strong bonds with them, promoting social connections, teaching healthy habits, and modeling positive behavior. Parents should convey confidence in their child’s abilities and let them know how vital it is for them to handle problems related to anxiety.

Parents play a critical role in the lives of teens, especially during their challenging adolescence stages thereby allowing them to feel safe and comfortable while facing life challenges. Acknowledging their feelings with warmth and compassion will help the kids develop self-compassion and deal effectively with the inevitable difficulties of life. Parents should show empathy and understanding towards their problems without trivializing or stigmatizing mental health issues.

To promote healthy relationships among teens, peers, and parents and establish a supportive environment for addressing mental health.

Teens should also show some behavioral changes.

Individuals should prioritize cultivating meaningful relationships with peers. Checking in with each other regularly is also crucial. If any unusual behavior is noticed, it is recommended to coordinate with friends' parents to address the situation in a supportive and empathetic manner. Encouraging vulnerability and openness among friends is advised, while prioritizing quality friendships over a large number of acquaintances who don't know an individual truly. It is also recommended to resist the influence of social media and trends on decision-making. Establishing a routine for themselves that incorporates necessary exercises to keep them in good mental and physical health. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle involves eating healthy meals, mainly avoiding any distractions while eating, and breathing exercises to manage panic and anxiety attacks. Reducing screen time and identifying stressors that can be stressful could help deal with the stress effectively.

Implementing these strategies can potentially lead to healthier relationships, both with peers and with mental health.

Stress can lead to depression in teens, and parents need to be aware of these stressors.

Meet The Thought Leader

Ashray Gupta, BCG consultant and SRCC alumni with a passion for leadership development. In addition to his professional work, he also dedicates time to mentoring individuals and helping them unlock their true potential. Through this experience, he has honed his abilities to provide guidance, encouragement and support to those seeking to accelerate their growth.

Meet The Authors (GGI Fellows)

Dr. Jui Gijare is an experienced clinical dentist with 8 years in the field, specializing in comprehensive oral health care. She Recently completed a PGCP in Product Management from IIM, enhancing skills in strategy development and market research. A Proud GGI Impact Fellow, passionate about driving positive change in healthcare, wishes to work as a management consultant. Also, a proficient medical writer and founder of a healthcare startup, dedicated to revolutionizing patient care. For rejuvenation she likes to learn new dance forms and explore places.

Ann Scintilla is a Chartered Accountancy Finalist who has worked with Goldman Sachs as an industrial trainee and with a mid size audit firm as an article trainee. She wishes to build her career in social impact consulting. In her personal time, she enjoys reading self help and fiction books, exploring music, painting and writing blog posts.

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.


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