By Isabella Pappano, Research Assistant
As 2021 concluded with powerful statements from leading youth mental health organizations and the U.S. Surgeon General, youth mental health became a focal social issue of 2022. In response, recent legislative decisions exemplify unprecedented attention to mitigating the issues of youth.
Though these developments reflect important change, ensuring quality of care requires clear identification of youth demographics, youth needs, and barriers to youth care. In the evaluation of these combined factors, digital mental health emerges as the best solution for the youth mental health crisis.
Recent Legislative Changes
Throughout the past year, the youth mental health discussion expanded both globally and locally. Internationally, a recent policy brief from the World Health Organization emphasized the unique mental health challenges for youth in relation to climate change. In the United States, the White House’s first Mental Health Youth Action Forum introduced important conversations about mental health treatment and stigma to a national stage. Meanwhile, state legislation also reflects the changing attitude toward the mental health needs of adolescents and young adults. In Massachusetts, representatives seek to push through a bill that would establish a review team to oversee youth mental health. Legislation in Connecticut reflects a similar goal of expanding youth access to behavioral health treatment. Earlier in June, Washington approved mental health absence days for students. While other states focus on younger individuals, New Jersey legislators emphasizes the need to decrease suicide rates among college students.
Overall, these developments illustrate important progress and a new emphasis on youth mental health. However, the trends continue to indicate an increasing need for these types of services among youth. In conjunction with other interventions and legislation, digital mental health tools provide innovative methods of reaching and engaging youth in behavioral health care.
The Changing Youth Population
When addressing the needs of today’s youth, important differences arise between the youngest generations and previous generations. One of the most evident distinctions involves diversity. The Pew Research Center identifies post-millennial (born after 1996) American youth as one of the most ethnically and racially diverse generations.
Similarly, sexuality and gender identity represent a significant difference between post-millennials and their parents. Despite the lack of data regarding adolescent sexuality and gender identity, a recent Gallup poll found that one in six individuals between the ages of 18–23 identity as LGBTQ+.
As younger people become more diverse, they also grow more technologically-savvy.
Despite their heterogeneity, youth share one key characteristic that differentiates them from previous generations: digital nativeness. The diverse digital natives of the young generation present unique hurdles to and opportunities for behavioral health treatment.
Challenges Faced by Youth
Not only are the characteristics of youth changing, but the very definition of youth is also experiencing a transformation. Some experts in the field of behavioral mental health suggest that the traditional definition of youth fails to encompass the struggles of youth today. These experts argue that various social and economic factors create a prolonged transition from youth to adulthood. According to a 2022 report from Pew Research Center, most US adults agree with the prospect that young adulthood contains more challenges presently than in the past. To account for these new developments, experts suggest expanding the traditional definition of youth as individuals under the age of 18 to include individuals up to the age of 25.
Despite the evolving understanding of young adults, most of the available statistical information about youth focuses on individuals under the age of 18. As reported by the United States Census Bureau, traditional youth comprise about 22% of the population. Analyses of this group reveal worrisome trends regarding mental health. Between the years 2016 and 2020, American youth experienced an increase in anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues. Furthermore, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that around 20% of high school students experience suicidal ideations. Though previous views correlated mental illness with adulthood, a recent epidemiological study established the peak of mental illness onset at 14.5 years old.
Though youth mental health issues began increasing before the pandemic, the stress and demands of COVID-19 exacerbated many of the pre-existing issues among young people (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Due to the magnitude of recent global issues, the behavioral health field feels the weight of addressing youth populations’ needs. However, both the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry report shortages in the respective fields. Considering the lack of resources and the increasing requirements, the need for innovative youth behavioral health assessment and treatment is now.
Reaching and Positively Impacting Youth
Though treatment options exist for youth, recent English and Australian studies question the efficacy of traditional therapeutic practices. Both studies suggest that measurement-based care may offer an effective method of addressing the complex social and functional impacts of youth mental health symptoms.
Furthermore, experts theorize that digital tools could increase accessibility to treatment, promote better awareness, and help mediate management of symptoms. One Irish study reported that youth already utilize digital resources to mitigate mental health concerns and inquiries. Though small, another British study indicated that young individuals positively react to computer-generated visualizations of progress. Both studies illustrate the benefits of incorporating digital tools into mental health care for youth. Considering that youth already feel comfortable utilizing digital methods of gathering information about mental health, the integration of digital platforms into mental health treatment would likely be a practical way of enhancing care for youth.
Despite the need for more youth mental health research, the present findings indicate promising benefits for youth interventions that measure and track progress. In an ongoing pilot program in Florida, New Directions Behavioral Health providers using Tridiuum ONE® have been able to reduce the average time to a first appointment from 25 to just 5 days. This provides an earlier lifeline to youth and their families who, facing longer wait times, may have previously given up on pursuing care. As the youth mental health crisis continues, digital mental health provides a solution to inequity within youth mental health.
Contact us for more information about how Tridiuum can provide the digital tools needed to reach and positively impact youth.