Connection is Key to Good Adolescent Mental Health

Connectedness Can Protect Students From Poor Mental Health Outcomes

Adolescence is a time for young people to have a healthy start in life. The number of adolescents reporting poor mental health is increasing. Building strong bonds and connecting to youth can protect their mental health. Schools and parents can create these protective relationships with students and help them grow into healthy adulthood.

Mental Health Can Affect Many Areas of a Student’s Life

Youth with poor mental health may struggle with school and grades, decision making, and their health. Mental health problems in youth often go hand-in-hand with other health and behavioral risks like increased risk of drug use, experiencing violence, and higher risk sexual behaviors than can lead to HIV, STDs, and unintended pregnancy. Because many health behaviors and habits are established in adolescence that will carry over into adult years, it is very important to help youth develop good mental health.

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Our nation’s youth struggle with their mental health—of great concern is the increasing number of students reporting feeling sad and hopeless.

Mental Health Is A Growing Problem

CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019pdf icon highlights concerning trends about the mental health of U.S. high school students.

More than 1 in 3 high school students had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a 40 percent increase since 2009. Nearly 37% of surveyed high school students reported these feelings. Some groups are more affected than others. These feelings were especially common among lesbian, gay, or bisexual students and female students.

Suicide-related behaviors are also a growing problem for adolescents. In 2019, approximately 1 in 6 youth reported making a suicide plan in the past year, a 44% increase since 2009. Again, the increases were different for each group surveyed.

Almost half of lesbian, gay, or bisexual students and nearly one-third of students not sure of their sexual identity reported they had seriously considered suicide—far more than heterosexual students. The number of black students who reported attempting suicide in 2019 rose by almost 50%.

Connectedness Can Protect Adolescents

Connectedness is an important protective factor for youth that can reduce the likelihood of poor mental health. Building strong bonds and relationships with adults and friends at school, at home and in the community provides youth with a sense of connectedness.

This feeling of connectedness is important and can protect adolescents from poor mental health, and other risks like drug use and violence. Youth need to know someone cares about them. Connections can be made virtually or in person.

What Schools Can Do to Protect Adolescent Mental Health

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Schools play an important role in good adolescent mental health. Establishing safe and supportive school environments is an effective way to help youth by connecting adolescents to networks of caring peers and adults. Research shows that students with someone at school who cares about them have better academic performance, health, and behavioral outcomes.

A safe and supportive school environment should:

  • Provide ongoing development and training to teachers on how to manage classroom by reinforcing positive behaviors and establishing rules, routines and expectations.
  • Support student led-clubs, like gay-straight alliances, so students have a safe space to socialize and connect with supportive school staff.
  • Facilitate positive youth development activities, like mentoring programs, volunteer opportunities, and programs that connect them to a network of supportive adults.
  • Provide parents and families with resources that support positive parenting practices such as open, honest communication and parental supervision.

As schools adapt to multiple environments, it is important that they provide both virtual and in-person ways for students to access intervention programs, health services, and trained mental health professionals who support adolescent mental health.

What Families and Parents Can Do to Protect Adolescent Mental Health

  • Communicate openly and honestly, including about their values.
  • Supervise their adolescent to facilitate healthy decision-making.
  • Spend time with their adolescent enjoying shared activities.
  • Become engaged in school activities and help with homework.
  • Volunteer at their adolescent’s school.
  • Communicate regularly with teachers and administrators.
More Information

Beyond the school environment, parents and families may find the following resources helpful to support the mental and emotional well-being of their adolescents: