The OECD Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society— to discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
Mental health issues among youths have become so commonplace that, in one form or another, they are present in every second household. From a distant problem that somebody else is having, they are now a global challenge known to many families.
Nearly every country in the world has standards for how quickly an ambulance should arrive after an emergency call. If it is a grade one emergency—for example when there is danger to someone’s life—then it has to leave within 1 minute and arrive on the scene within 15 minutes.
If we look at the mental health pyramid, then in an ideal world this kind of care should also be applied to mental health crises, although they are much harder to detect; people may not even be aware they are experiencing them, let alone those around them. Often mental health issues do not have visible symptoms, and without any signs of needing help, first aid is not called out.
We have to prioritise addressing youth mental health while we still can impact the course of action for the better.
Many people are very skilled at hiding their problems, which makes them worsen over time until there is a breaking point and they have to enter the medical system. Too often, very little is done in the prevention and promotion stages; most adult mental health issues begin in childhood or adolescence. Unresolved mental health problems are very likely to have a negative impact on a child’s development and learning outcomes, and they may well have significant consequences for a lifetime. We have to prioritise addressing youth mental health while we still can impact the course of action for the better.
The need for mental health support in youth has doubled over the years, and cracks are emerging in national health systems. We are not yet equipped with the personnel or system to deal with the challenge at hand. Currently, most efforts are going towards “firefighting”: helping people on support lines and in doctors’ offices. But—and this is not a surprise—we need to turn our attention and actions towards prevention and early detection and, truthfully, redesign our systems to be able to do that.
How might fewer youths reach critical mental health states so populations would be healthier and reach their full potential? How can we make it so that the need for a “mental health ambulance” would be minimised? And what might we need to do so youths are more resilient and create positive change in their own lives and in the world?
More on the Forum Network: Why does mental health in Africa matter? by Rasa Dawson, Chief Development and Communications Officer, StrongMinds
Youth mental health is a matter for the whole village, not just one person
We need to educate, empower and enable flourishing communities where the needs of youths are noticed and cared for in a systemic and holistic way. There are many stakeholders, which makes youth mental health one of the world’s “wicked” problems. We at Clanbeat know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem; we have to be sensitive to different needs and circumstances to create personalised responses and care.
Together with the Estonian mental health ecosystem, we have begun pilots to mainstream systemic, regular mental health self-assessments for youths. Based on this mapping, we provide validated mental health information sources and services matched to patients personal needs, and in real-time.
Providing speedy, personalised help is the future.
Our solution offers young people the opportunity to have their own positively framed self-check-ins, designed for them and with them. Personalised pathways to resources give them knowledge and skills, improving their well-being and supporting them if problems arise.
Accessibility and help in real-time
Even if a mental health specialist is not available to everyone in person, there are still ways to still help youths. The landscape of evidence-based self-help materials, programmes and telehealth possibilities is expanding; although not suitable for everyone, youths are better prepared to use them than older generations. With the strategic involvement of local expertise, cultural and language barriers can be also lowered, offering opportunities for international co-operation in the treatment of mental health.
Providing speedy, personalised help is the future. Gathering qualified service providers and matching them with youths, either directly or through their local ecosystem, creates the largest impact if presented in the right place, time and way.
We need to work with data promptly to create impact
Systematic help is needed to analyse the data quickly and act accordingly. A lot of data are collected by many stakeholders, but too often the benefit to individuals is neither seen nor felt at all. Through technology and data science it is possible to give almost immediate feedback and follow-up suggestions, so that people feel supported to improve their lives right when they need it.
It is already possible to prevent much of the suffering caused by youth mental health problems.
We support the systematic and data-based promotion of youth mental health at student, school, local governments and state levels to prevent more serious problems later in life. Our vision is that students will have the knowledge to maintain their own positive mental health and the skills to apply mental health first aid to others.
Let’s make positive change happen
Today, it is already possible to prevent much of the suffering caused by youth mental health problems: noticing each student’s needs in a personalised way and providing real time help where possible; giving them the agency to create better habits and healthier lives. From this, big data sets are born—and analysing them to empower communities to grow stronger by supporting youth can create better school environments and national support systems for a healthier world.