What we’ve learned about mental health from young people

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(Sydney Sims, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Cynthia Germanotta, Co-Founder and President, Born This Way Foundation & Maya Smith, Executive Director, Born This Way Foundation


The global mental health crisis intersects every continent, generation, and culture. Its far-reaching impact and indiscriminate nature, while daunting, should compel us to us to understand its root causes and do all we can to promote the wellbeing of our communities.

Mental health is a vital component of every person’s overall wellbeing. The number of young people suffering from mental health conditions is alarming. In the US, one in five people aged 13 to 18 live with a mental health condition and half of all mental health illnesses emerge by age 14. The consequences of unaddressed youth mental health conditions extend into adulthood, limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives.

There is a critical need for more attention and support towards solving our mental health crisis. Young people between the ages of 15 to 24 make up almost 20% of the world’s population and account for 15% of the global workforce. Executives who do not acknowledge and address the role of mental health in their companies risk paying a steep price in lost productivity and potential. Severe mental illness is projected to cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030, according to the World Health Organization.

For many, figuring out where to start in order to address the problem can be overwhelming. However, a recent research project by Born This Way Foundation identified a few key factors to consider.

Young people prioritize their mental wellbeing, but about half are not talking about it, and a third say they lack reliable access to resources to support their mental health. The majority of adolescents say they would not have the tools needed to address serious but common situations, such as suicidal feelings or self-harm.

Key findings from a survey of over 2,000 people aged 13 to 24 in the US.

When asked about the key barriers to access, nearly half of young people say they do not know where to go to find these tools. The cost of help was the second biggest barrier and roughly half said people in their city “can’t afford the cost” of mental health resources.

Mental health currently receives less than 1% of global aid. These key findings illustrate the demand for more innovative solutions that remove barriers and help connect young people with the host of resources they need to succeed.

The global community can join these efforts by creating innovative tools and proactively educating young people about the different types of mental health resources available to them.

Together, we can build tools that allow young people to find these resources with the same ease that most of us enjoy when making a restaurant reservation or booking a handyman. We can help equip local community members with the tools, such as hands-on training, to support one another.

Mobilising Action for Inclusive Societies

Recent years have witnessed some of the largest protests in human history. People are taking to the streets amid a desire for change, putting pressure on decision-makers for urgent and courageous leadership to find sustainable and inclusive solutions to some of the major challenges ahead of us.

A range of forces are at play. By 2022, some 60% of gross domestic product will be digitized – but current education systems are failing to prepare people for decent work in this future. Based on current trends, it will also take approximately two centuries to close the global economic gender gap. Meanwhile, the world’s richest 1% are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030.

To tackle these challenges, Mobilising Action for Inclusive Societies is one of the four focus areas at the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Sustainable Development Impact summit. A range of sessions will bring stakeholders together to take action that will bolster local entrepreneurship and innovation, while making growth more equitable.

Our research tells us that young people are open to using a variety of resources and that they want to develop skills to support their wellbeing and one another. In our work, we have seen again and again how young people are mobilizing to create campaigns and programmes that raise awareness, connect one another with resources, and start a meaningful dialogue about mental health in their communities.

Leaders around the world are beginning to recognize what young people already know, and mental health is gradually moving to the forefront of conversation as a global health and economic development priority.

Workplaces are improving the mental healthcare benefits they provide, governments are starting to dedicate real resources to the issue, and the United Nations included it in their Sustainable Development Goals.

It’s time to accelerate actions that we know are working and learn from each other. The path to success for any community and workplace will depend on how well we collaborate to bridge the gaps between youth and the resources and opportunities they need to support their mental health.

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