Teen Mental Health

Teen Mental Health

Resilience and the Adolescent Mind

Resilience, according to Marc Zimmerman, professor of health behavior and health education, is an idea born out of physics—that a material is resilient to the extent to which it can handle stress. "Buildings are built to sway, to give, but not to break," he says. So, too, are teens. For the last 30 years, Zimmerman has been examining what makes children and teens resilient to risk factors that might otherwise result in psychological or behavioral problems. Through the Prevention Research Center, a community-based partnership in Flint, Michigan, Zimmerman and his team are developing a number of programs and initiatives aimed at building resilience in young people and reducing youth violence.

A cornerstone of Zimmerman's work is the Youth Empowerment Solutions (YES) program, which encourages adolescents to make positive changes to their community through a curriculum that features adult mentoring and hands-on community projects designed by the participants themselves. Research from this program, which has been ongoing since 2004, has revealed several key findings, including the fact that a strong ethnic identity, nurturing parents, and engagement in extracurricular activities all bolster resilience in youth and lead to better outcomes. Now, Zimmerman and his team are actively working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a framework so that other communities can implement similar programs in culturally distinct settings. "People are fundamentally resilient," Zimmerman says. "We just need to know how to harness it." —Rachel Ruderman

Fighting Teen Depression in Violent Communities

Living in a violent environment can cause feelings of distress, hopelessness, and negative thoughts that contribute to mental health problems like depression, especially in teens. So how can we protect our youth who live in violent communities from depression and other debilitating mental conditions?

Andria Eisman, a PhD candidate in health behavior and health education, studies depression trajectories in high school youth in Flint, Michigan, with a focus on how different forms of violence exposure influence a teen's risk of developing depression. She has found that, although peers are important influences during this time of life, it was social support from mothers that helped reduce depressive symptoms in teens, while having support from peers isn't as important. The implications of these findings can help shape future interventions in violence-prone communities.

"Parents remain a key source of support for adolescents throughout the high school years," Eisman says. "Because of this, parenting-focused interventions, particularly for youth at risk for violence exposure, are an important piece of fostering positive mental health among youth." —Rachel Ruderman

Mental Health, Decision-Making, and HIV

When young people are newly diagnosed with HIV, they need basic information about the virus, treatments, side-effects, disclosure, and communication. Many also need mental health services in order to cope with depression and/or anxiety. Clinical child psychologist and SPH Professor Gary Harper has spent years helping adolescents with HIV adjust to the psychosocial and medical challenges of the disease and to make wise behavioral decisions. Harper works in both the U.S. and in Kenya, in part through the auspices of the NIH-based Adolescent Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Intervention. "Working with young people," he says, "we try to help them understand this is a chronic manageable health issue."