Mental health

Helping Adolescents Thrive

WHO Guidelines on mental health promotive and preventive interventions for adolescents

Adolescence is characterized by dynamic physical, psychological and social development that shapes the capabilities and skills an individual takes forward into adult life. During adolescence, people acquire many of the cognitive, emotional and social resources that are the foundation for later life health and wellbeing.

Young people face increasingly complex social, cultural and economic environments with growing challenges, including increases in forced displacement, migration, unstable families, rising levels of mental health problems and violence. Inequities, including those linked to poverty and gender, shape all aspects of adolescent health and wellbeing. Disadvantaged minority and migrant youth are affected disproportionally with poorer mental health outcomes and higher rates of youth unemployment and early school leaving. Adolescent parenthood is associated with a range of adverse outcomes for young mothers, including mental health problems such as depression, and substance abuse. Teen mothers are also more likely to be impoverished and reside in communities and families that are socially and economically disadvantaged. These circumstances can adversely affect maternal mental health, parenting, growth and development outcomes for their children and increase the risk of child maltreatment.

There are a wide range of important structural or societal factors that put adolescents, and/or specific sub-groups of adolescents, at risk of suboptimal mental health, mental health disorders, and suicide. These include poverty, migration, contrasts between their lived reality and their aspirations, which are sometimes fuelled by images seen in the media, and gender norms. Early and forced marriage (usually of adolescent girls), sexual and intimate partner violence (usually of adolescent girls) and homicide and social norms related to other types of risk such as use of alcohol and other drugs, and unsafe sexual practices (especially among boys) are examples of societal norms that can put adolescents at increased risk of mental health disorders.

The guidelines will consider and discuss the importance of interventions respecting ethical and human rights principles, especially since some of the issues that underlie adolescent mental ill health are contested in many countries. Their specific objective is to provide WHO guidance on promotion of mental health and prevention of mental disorders, self-harm and other risk behaviours in adolescents.