Youth Health

Youth health refers to the physical, mental and social wellbeing of adolescents and young adults from 0-19 years. It also encompasses those affected by HIV/AIDS as well as chronic illnesses like diabetes, asthma, cancer and chronic liver disease.

Adolescence is a critical period in someone’s life; this is when new behaviors emerge that will have long-term effects on health. Examples include smoking, drinking, drug use, violence and sexual intimacy.

The adolescent health care system should offer services that are accessible, affordable and tailored to the needs of all young people (regardless of age, sexuality, race, cultural background, religion or socioeconomic status). This includes prevention, promotion and early intervention with the aim to reduce illness rates, promote physical, emotional and social well-being as well as reduce the likelihood of developing lifelong health issues or chronic conditions.

In many countries, access to health services for youth is often limited, with family physicians serving as the main point of contact and primary source for referrals for health issues. This can lead to disengagement or avoidance by young people due to concerns about confidentiality and discomfort with challenging topics. Clinics in schools or community-based settings that offer flexible service hours can address these issues, particularly in rural communities or those with unstable resources.

Mental health disorders are unfortunately common among adolescents and account for 16% of global disease and injury burden in this age group. They may arise due to various reasons, such as poverty or poor family conditions, stress, traumatic experiences, substance abuse issues, depression or anxiety. The effects of mental health disorders on a person’s ability to function can be profound and long-lasting; hence treatment is important both to ensure their overall wellbeing and that of those around them.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents, and suicide rates tend to be higher in conflict-torn regions. Effective strategies for responding to youth suicide include encouraging positive development in young people, restricting firearm and alcohol access, and offering empathic and supportive care for those who have experienced violence.

In some countries, health care service models that prioritize youth needs have gained acceptance. Examples include ‘Headstrong and Jigsaw’ in Ireland; ‘Youth Space’ in the United Kingdom; ‘Access’ in California; and ‘The Foundry’ in Canada. These programs have proven successful at increasing access to mental health services for young people with emerging difficulties and have been replicated worldwide.

These evidence-based approaches seek to promote health and well-being, support youth in making their own decisions about living, working, playing and engaging them in development and service delivery. They are founded on collaborative approaches that address social justice issues while encouraging youth rights, voice and participation.

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