A second chance in the second decade

Adolescents’ health-related behaviours


Mental health issues

For adolescents mental health issues are among the leading risk factors for death, such as suicides, and causes of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). Many adolescents who participated in the WHO global consultation consider mental health the most important health problem faced by adolescents today, and they would like more access to mental health care.

Suicide attempts, not surprisingly, predict suicide.6 However, suicide attempts are not widely monitored. Only one-third of countries ask about suicide attempts in the GSHS, and it is not a required question in the HBSC. Other national school-based surveys in Europe7 and the United States of America8 do ask about suicide attempts, as does at least one provincial survey in Canada.9 None of the countries in the South-East Asia Region asks about suicide attempts.

Prevalence. The prevalence of suicide attempts in the preceding 12 months ranges widely among adolescents ages 12–18. Many high income countries report rates of 5–10%. Rates are slightly higher—around 15%—in several low and middle income countries. In a few countries more than one in every three adolescents reports attempting suicide in the preceding year.

Gender differences. In Europe and the Americas, adolescent girls are nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide as boys, but among countries participating in the GSHS in the Africa, Eastern Mediterranean, and Western Pacific regions, there are no gender differences.

Tableau: Prevalence of suicide attempts

Mental health disorders. There are no regular surveys that assess the prevalence of mental health disorders among adolescents or adolescents’ use of mental health services. The World Health Organization (WHO) has supported the World Mental Health Survey,10 household surveys in five countries to document the prevalence of mental health conditions among adolescents and resulting health-seeking behaviour.

Age of onset. The World Mental Health Survey found that many mental disorders usually start during childhood or adolescence, although diagnosis and treatment may be delayed for years.11 Half of all lifetime mental disorders appear to start by age 14. Brief episodes during adolescence are less likely to recur in young adulthood than those that last six months or longer during adolescence.12

Treatment. In high income countries such as the United States of America and Canada, fewer than half of adolescents with mental health problems receive needed care.13 In low and middle income countries access to treatment is scarce.14

In light of the substantial burden of mental health conditions, WHO has developed the Mental Health Action Plan for 2013–2020. The plan includes recommended actions for improving the mental health of adolescents.15


Physically I am in good health, but mentally only partially because several obstacles find their way along my path, affecting my mental health, and I have to overcome them.

female, 15-17, Canada

Sometimes it's just hard to pass up on something that tastes so good even if it is bad for your body. I have to remind myself that part of the reason it does taste so good is because of the added artificial flavouring or excess sugar content.

female, 18-19, United States of America

Each individual has his or her own life philosophy. I have my own life philosophy: Enjoy the present moment and take each day at a time. Enjoy the moments of youth that are supposed to be the greatest of our existence. It is the age of excess.

male, 18-19, France

Adolescent on bad habits: To party and escape your daily troubles!

male, 15-17, France

When I became sexually active I never wore a condom, and I didn’t know how to use one.

male, 18-19. Mexico

I love sweets, and I haven’t found a balance between normal and excessive consumption.

female, 18-19. Venezuela

Adolescents on definition of health: To have the ability to do things well, without any sort of discomfort or pain. To ensure a comfortable future, without any complications like diabetes or any sort of cardiac disease, etc., caused by what was done in the past.

female, 18-19, Mexico

I feel stress over sexual issues - no one wants to give me information, and I also get anxious because I feel that I am doing something wrong.

male, 15-17, Mexico

Adolescents on definition of health: To find myself comfortable with body, and to feel nothing that could make me feel bad about or within myself.

female, 18-19, Spain

Adolescents on bad habits: Sometimes laziness and inactivity, I'm not doing sports, and excessive eating of sweets and harmful foods and soft drinks and fruit after midnight.

female, 15-17, Saudi Arabia

Give us real information about our rights and about sexual health. Also information about nutrition and healthy behaviours.

male, 15-17, Mexico

I love drinking and partying, I do it quite often. I also smoke quite often.

male, 18-19, France

Adolescents on bad habits: it’s a quicker and easier way to satisfy my hunger. I like to eat.

female, 12-14, Peru

I think I am physically and mentally healthy, but I feel emotional pain as a result of many different things that have happened over time.

female, 18-19, Mexico

I just wanted to test it out, then it became a habit.

female, 15-17, France

It’s basically a thing you do, in part because of the social aspect of these activities, in part, and this especially counts for the cigarettes, as a stress reliever.

male, 18-19, Denmark

I haven’t learned about what I should and shouldn’t eat.

female, 18-19, Mexico

That cigarettes, alcohol and drugs not be in style anymore.

female, 15-17, France

Adolescents on what should be done to improve their health: Raising awareness about sexual identities and orientation.

trans, 12-14, Argentina

To be in good health not only means taking care of your body (through participating in sports, eating well, etc.) or just the absence of illness; it also equally involves feeling good in your own skin, being happy with your choices in life and doing what you love.

female, 15-17 Canada