Protective Factors as a Path to Better Youth Mental Health

Protective Factors as a Path to Better Youth Mental Health

Not only are young people the most likely to experience mental health challenges, but 75% of all mental health problems and illnesses (for youth and adults combined) begin before the age of 25.

One potential avenue to improve youth mental health is to focus more on improving protective factors (as opposed to only targeting risk factors) and on the concept of resilience.

Left unaddressed, youth mental health issues can persist through adulthood. The overarching theme in this brief by the New Brunswick Health Council (2016) is improving mental health.

A table showing the protective and risk factors for mental health indicated that three of the six individual level protective factors were related to lifestyle behaviors and included nutrition, physical activity, and sleep.

Individual level risk factors identified primarily included two factors contrary to healthy habits (i.e., physical inactivity and poor nutrition), three substance use-related factors (i.e., smoking, heavy alcohol use and problematic substance use), and four mental health problems (i.e., anxiety, stress, sadness/depression and chronic/severe mental illness).

Together, most of the individual level protective and risk factors for mental health addressed lifestyle behaviors of youth. 

Interventions aimed at increasing protective lifestyle behaviors, particularly sleep, nutrition, and physical activity, while preventing risky substance use, will therefore synergistically and likely exponentially enhance the mental health of youth.

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