For Young Adults, All Health Must Begin with Mental Health


Barbara Green

Barbara J. Green, PhD, Youth Health Connection Medical Director

Last week, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released the results of a study on suicide rates among teens and young adults.

The results were alarming. The study found that from 2000 to 2017, the suicide rate for teens aged 15-19 rose 47 percent. For young adults aged 20-24, the suicide rate rose 36 percent during the same time period. This data correlates with numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which found that the suicide rate nationwide is at its highest level since World War II.

For those of us who work in the mental health field, these numbers are alarming. Unfortunately, they’re also not surprising: as a professional group, researchers and clinicians have been keeping a close eye on the data and expressing concerns.

When it comes to the young adult population, it’s hard to pinpoint a precise reason for this dramatic increase. We know that young adults today feel a great deal of stress on a regular basis. That stress comes from a variety of different places, including a desire to do well in school, fit in with friends, and maintain a positive body image. Many young adults also suffer from a lack of sleep, which can compound feelings of stress.

Social media has only increased those stressors, and researchers are beginning to investigate the impact of social media on the mental health of young adults.

At times, it can feel like there’s no escape from social media. That stress can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and helplessness, which can in turn become contributing factors toward suicidal ideation.

Start with open dialog and honest conversations

When it comes to something as complex as mental health, there’s never going to be an easy “cure-all” solution. However, there are key steps that can be taken to assist those in need.

At Youth Health Connection (and throughout South Shore Health), we’ve adopted the mantra “there’s no health without mental health.” This system-wide approach focuses on treating the mind as well as the body, ensuring that all patients receive the well-rounded care they need. An approach like this can go a long way toward reducing barriers to treatment for those in need.

As a society, it’s essential for us to eliminate the stigma around mental health struggles.

By encouraging open, honest conversations about depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns, we can drastically increase the likelihood of a young adult reaching out to a trusted, connected source in a time of need.

While the data released by JAMA and the CDC is alarming, it cannot deter medical professionals from making mental health a priority in young adults. With Youth Health Connection, we have spent more than 25 years emphasizing the importance of mental well-being on the health of young adults.

As the world gets more stressful, we simply must double down on our efforts to ensure that young adults have access to the care they need.

How can parents spot signs of a problem?

As is the case with most medical conditions, no two young adults will experience depression or thoughts of suicide in the exact same way. For that reason, it’s important for parents to monitor things like the mood or habits of their young adult.

Potential reasons for concern include:

  • Changes in mood or behavior, including drastically altering a routine
  • A loss of interest in what used to be activities he or she enjoyed
  • The sudden disassociation with friends, or the sudden appearance of a new group of friends


If you notice any of these changes in your young adult, the most important thing you can do is to be available to your child in his or her time of need. Let your child know that you are available to talk at any time. Foster an environment in your home that encourages open discussions about stress, anxiety, and overall mental health. A welcoming environment like that can help make it easier for your child to open up about what he or she is feeling.

There will be no overnight changes to solve this problem our society is facing. But large-scale change can start with small actions. By showing compassion to those in need and by making a concerted effort to integrate behavioral health with overall health, we can ensure that young adults struggling with mental health issues get the help they need.


If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. To learn more about how to get involved with Youth Health Connection, please call Jean at 781-624-7423.