Thomas Plante: Youth Mental Health

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Mental health challenges abound in these stressful days, but the condition of young people is especially concerning. Thomas Plante has this Perspective.

Recently the U.S. surgeon general released a stunning report highlighting a dramatic increase in psychiatric challenges among teens and young adults. Teenage girls, for example, had, a 51% increase in suicidal emergency room visits since COVID began. Even before the pandemic, 20% of children and teens had a diagnosable mental health or behavioral disorder. The dual crisis of the pandemic, and other social challenges, has worsened the mental health of us all, creating a “national emergency,” in the words of the report, but its especially bad among young people.

As a college professor who has taught psychology for about 30 years, I have certainly witnessed the dramatic decline in student mental health. Tragically, this fall term, we’ve mourned the loss of three students, two who died from suicide.

Some will argue that teens today are soft, lack resilience and are coddled. Yet we must remember that this generation, born around or after September 11th, has experienced major traumas reported every hour with non-stop media coverage. How could young people not be struggling and traumatized? As they look to a future of climate change, economic challenges, social upheaval and political leaders who often act like toddlers having temper tantrums, how could they maintain much hope and good mental health?

The surgeon general’s report specifies what we can do about it, stating, “We can all work together to step up for our children during this dual crisis.” While many people may feel powerless, kindness is our superpower. It can often make the difference between life and death. Compassionate, respectful acts of kindness are readily available to us all. When in doubt, be kind, in doing so you might save a life, especially a young life.


With a Perspective, I’m Thomas Plante.

Thomas Plante is a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University and an adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine.