Mental Health, Youth and Sexual Violence: An FAQ

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By Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres, White Ribbon Campaign, and OPHEA

What is mental health, and why is it especially important to young people?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a “state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Mental health problems can include panic and anxiety, depression and other mood problems, psychosis, eating problems and other emotional, coping or addiction problems.

It is estimated that around 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have mental health problems. About half of mental disorders begin before the age of 14. Without support, mental health problems can have a significant impact on a young person’s ability to engage with and succeed in their studies: “young people with mental health disorders are at great risk for dropping out of school”. As they grow older, additional challenges can accumulate, with “diminished career options arising from leaving school prematurely” and an overall “effect on productivity” and well-being.

Challenges also exist in providing helpful responses to young people dealing with mental health problems. Children’s Mental Health Ontario shares, for example, that:

  • 28% of students report not knowing where to turn when they wanted to talk to someone about mental health¹
  • Black youth are significantly under-represented in mental health and treatment-oriented services and over represented in containment-focused facilities²
  • First Nations youth die by suicide about 5 to 6 times more often than non-Aboriginal youth
  • LGBTQ youth face approximately 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers.

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