1. Increased risk for negative outcomes
    1. Young adults are experiencing increased mental health struggles and suicide rates, which could be driven by unique stressors like social media. Protective factors like resilience and connectedness can prevent or lessen the impact of these challenges.
  2. Emphasize availability of effective resources
    1. Youth-focused content sometimes portrays mental health professionals as out of touch or incompent but it’s important to show that effective resources are available.
  3. Triggering content can romanticize negative outcomes
    1. Young people are particularly susceptible to content that might be triggering and they may romanticize negative outcomes like substance misuse, self-injury, or suicide. If your story contains these themes, refer to those specific sections for guidance.

Storytelling Tips

Show Conversations About Mental Health and Help-Seeking
  • Show productive mental health conversations between youth and their friends and family, to encourage young viewers to speak up. 
  • Research shows that young people are accepting and understanding of other people’s mental health challenges, but fear that they’ll be judged for talking about their own. Showing positive conversations can help counter this misconception. 
Spotlight Support from Friends and Family Members
  • Authentically depict what a support network might look like for today’s youth, and show how that support network might recognize warning signs and reach out.
  • Peers may be in the best position to notice when their friends are dealing with a mental health challenge — but only if they know the warning signs and are comfortable reaching out and offering support. 
  • For example, someone displaying escalating levels of anger and lashing out might push friends away, but anger can be a warning sign of depression and it’s important to show friends being persistent despite the aggression.
Depict Effective, Realistic Help-Seeking and Treatment
  • Show what effective care looks like for young people. 
  • Television shows and movies with mental health themes sometimes portray mental health professionals and guidance counselors as out of touch or incompetent. 
  • While this can certainly be the case in some situations, it’s important that youth who are struggling feel like there are effective resources available to them.
Highlight the Power of Coping Skills and Self-Care
  • Spotlight ways that young people can be more resilient, take care of themselves, and thrive.
  • If you’re telling a story that includes mental health struggles, go beyond visualizing the pain and try to also show the coping, healing, and connection.
Represent the Complex Causes of Mental Health Challenges
  • Avoid oversimplifying the causes of mental health conditions and negative outcomes so young viewers better understand how to support themselves or someone they know who might be experiencing a similar challenge. 
  • Teen movies and television shows that involve negative outcomes like suicide sometimes include narratives that attribute that distress to a specific cause, like bullying or a breakup. 
  • While mistreatment and relationship issues can contribute to distress, mental health is impacted by a range of factors from genetics to upbringing to triggers in our daily lives.
Avoid Sharing Potentially Harmful Details
  • If your story contains themes of substance misuseself-injury, or suicide, refer to those specific sections for guidance on ways to avoid having a negative impact on young viewers.
  • Young people are particularly susceptible to content that might be triggering or that romanticizes negative outcomes like substance misuse, self-injury, or suicide. For example, artists whose work seems more celebrated after they die by suicide or characters who take their lives as a form of revenge in response to bullying might have a harmful effect on young, struggling viewers. 


A recent study found that mental health struggles have increased significantly for adolescents and young adults since 2011. The study suggests that social media (both the stressors on the platforms and the movement away from face-to-face interactions) has played a role in these increases. Suicide and suicide attempts are also on the rise among youth and young adults. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds.  

The transition from adolescence to young adulthood can be a particular vulnerable time for young people. Over 25% of 18 to 24 year olds experience a mental health challenge each year. One in three college students will screen positive for a mental health concern. Sixty percent of first-year college students wish they had received more help with emotional preparation for college.  

At the same time, a growing understanding of life skills and resilience has shown us that young people don’t have to be victims to stressors like social media, or enter adulthood vulnerable to the mental health challenges that can exist during this transition. Proactively addressing mental health more like physical health, can empower young people, with coping skills, support networks and help-seeking tendencies to weather challenges and improve their quality of life.

Facts and Stats

Mental health conditions are common among teens and young adults. 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses develop by age 14 and 75% develop by age 24. 
1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6 to 17 experience a mental health condition each year, and only half of those youth received treatment in 2016. 
High school students with significant symptoms of depression are more than twice as likely to drop out compared to their peers. 
Over 17% of high school students have serious thoughts of suicide each year. 
Youth who feel connected at school and at home were found to be as much as 66% less likely to experience health risk behaviors related to sexual health, substance use, violence, and mental health in adulthood.
Over 70% of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosed mental illness. 

Download / print