youth mental health: a crisis in india

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July 25, 2017

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Mental disorders account for a large proportion of the disease burden in young people in all societies. Most mental disorders begin during youth (12–24 years of age), although they are often detected later in life. Poor mental health is strongly related to other health and development concerns in young people, which include lower educational abilities, substance abuse and violence.

Youth – the critical phase of life, is a period of major physical, physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes with changing patterns of social interactions and relationships. These changes are also accompanied by significant stress on young people and those around them, while influencing and affecting their relationships with their peers and adults. It is also an age of impulsivity accompanied by vulnerability, influenced by peer groups and media that result in changes in perception and practice, and characterized by decision making skills/abilities along with acquisition of new emotional, cognitive and social skills.

Some common mental illnesses that affect teenagers and children are Anxiety disorders, Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Conduct disorders, Depression, Psychosis, Bipolar disorder, Eating disorders and Schizophrenia.

The youth in India (10-24 years) constitutes one of the most precious resources of India characterized by growth and development and is a phase of vulnerability often influenced by several factors that affect their health and safety. Nearly 10-30% of the youth of India suffer from health impacting behaviors and conditions that need immediate attention.  Although adolescence and young adulthood are generally considered healthy times of life, several important public health and social behaviours and problems either start or peak during these years. Most of these problems are linked with social determinants and lifestyles operating and interacting in complex environments that trigger these conditions or behaviours. This developmental transition makes them vulnerable to environmental, contextual or surrounding influences. Environmental factors including family and peer pressure, school and societal norms can both support or challenge young people’s health and well-being.                                      

Available evidence indicate that young people are prone to a number of health impacting conditions due to personal choices, environmental influences and lifestyle changes including both communicable and non-communicable disorders and injuries. Other health impacting conditions include substance disorders like tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide, risky sexual practices and violence.

Tobacco, alcohol and drugs- Many teenagers get high from abusing substances which range from diverted prescription drugs to street drugs to inhalants to alcohol. Some of these teens will go on to a life of addiction, abusing increasingly dangerous substances. Some teens will have more short-lived experience, as abusing a drug or other substance even one time can be fatal.  The major leading causes for substance abuse is peer pressure where teenagers use drugs for the first time to avoid being stigmatized by their friends or to impress others, genetics and family influence, Teenagers who have a tendency to seek thrills and adrenaline rushes may be at higher risk of abusing drugs due to the “high” feeling that is achieved from early substance use, stress, low self-worth and desire for performance enhancement can lead to increased drug use. Marijuana or cannabis is the illicit drug that is abused the most by teenagers in the form of smoking, edibles, tablets or vaporizers.


Suicide- According to reports by World Health Organization, age specific suicide rate among 15-29 year is on the rise increasing from 3.73 to 3.96 per 1,00,000 population per year. Causes of teenage suicide can be difficult to pinpoint and may involve several factors. Teens go through a vulnerable period at this stage in their lives. No matter how small or big their problems, their troubles may feel unbearable or overwhelming. Major disappointment such as rejection, loss of a loved one or failure can trigger suicidal tendencies, feelings of stress, confusion, worry about problems and self-worth and depression can lead to suicide in teens. Other factors include biological factors and substance abuse.

There is a strong need for public health community to identify, prepare, integrate and implement activities that help to promote health and healthy lifestyles of young people and establish mechanisms for delivery of population-based interventions along with measuring its impact. There is a need to generate good quality and robust population data that can drive policies and programmes. Strategic investments in health, nutrition, education, employment and welfare are critical for healthy growth of young people and these programmes need to be monitored and evaluated for their efficacy and effectiveness using public health approaches. Effective prevention programs have been identified which may help to reduce the risk of children developing a mental problem or disorder. Some prevention programs are even more effective than later treatments, particularly in the area of conduct disorders. Significant advancements can be made when both the early years of life and the early stages of disorders are targeted.



Shastri, P. C. (2009). Promotion and prevention in child mental health. Indian Journal of Psychiatry51(2), 88–95.

Sunitha, S., & Gururaj, G. (2014). Health behaviours & problems among young people in India: Cause for concern & call for action. The Indian Journal of Medical Research140(2), 185–208.

Written by Anoushka Thakkar, Intern Blogger at The MINDS Foundation, Vadodara (Gujarat)

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