early intervention for teens with mental illness

The Benefits of Early Intervention for Teens with Mental Illness

The teenage years can be challenging for everyone, including the teen’s family. When your teen shows more than the normal mental health issues around the typical struggles of being a teenager, it might be time to learn more about the underlying causes and seek treatment. There are many benefits of early intervention for teens with mental illness, for the teenager’s well-being and as well as for your family.

Teenage Mental Illness

Researchers have found that half of all mental disorders start by age 14. They are usually preceded by a non-specific psychosocial disturbance that can potentially evolve. Unfortunately, the need for mental health services for young people is still largely unmet, in part because families may be unaware of the benefits of early intervention for teens with mental illness. Early intervention, though, can change the trajectory of the mental health issue.

Taking steps to prevent further mental health concerns can help reduce the prevalence and severity of mental health conditions among young people. Evidence-based guidelines developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that population-specific interventions have an overall promotion focus, in line with the continuum of care between interventions promoting positive mental health, interventions striving to prevent the onset of mental health disorders (primary prevention), and interventions aiming at early identification, case detection, early treatment, and rehabilitation (secondary and tertiary prevention).

However, young people are typically less likely than any other age group to access mental health services because of poor access to appropriate services or the stigma associated with mental illness and treatment. Effective early management, though, is the key to preventing the progress of mental disorders and to reducing the mortality often associated with these disorders. Social isolation, poor functioning, and even death can be prevented through early intervention.

Puberty into Adulthood

Symptoms of specific mental health disorders tend to become more apparent in the years between the onset of puberty and adulthood. The Mental Health Association (MHA) recommends steps that can help families, friends, and community members move forward as they realize the benefits of early intervention for teens with mental illness:

  • Mental health screenings. The experts recommend that these screenings should be as common as hearing or vision screenings for teenagers.
  • Education about early signs of mental illness. Families and key community members should know how to recognize and catch problems early. Teachers, mentors, pediatricians, and church officials can be more effective in helping teens share their mental health challenges.
  • Access to services. An intervention often leads to treatment for mental illness for the teen who is showing early signs.

Supporting Mental Health for Teens

Early intervention can help prevent a number of issues that could develop into serious concerns for the teen and their families. Family members should be encouraged to arrange an intervention and then seek out effective treatment for their teen, watching for the signs of early mental illness onset. Intervention and treatment can help prevent the serious consequences of not addressing the mental health concerns soon enough, including:

  • Incarceration. It is estimated that 65% to 70% of the youth placed in juvenile detention centers annually have some form of diagnosable and treatable mental health disorders. Over 90% have been exposed to an adverse childhood experience, with three-fourths having experienced traumatic victimization.
  • Dropping out of school. Fewer than half of students with emotional disturbances graduate from high school. Of those who drop out, 1 in 10 are institutionalized, as opposed to 1 in 33 of those  who stay in school and graduate.
  • Homelessness. Approximately 550,000 unaccompanied youth and adults under the age of 24 experience homelessness at least one week out of the year.
  • Suicide. The most devastating consequence of not seeking an early intervention for teens with mental illness is suicide, the 3rd leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the US.


Early intervention is critical for your teen’s mental health and for the well-being of your family. At Whitman Recovery Service, our experienced intervention experts will help you hold an intervention for your adult child, guiding your family through the process of getting your loved one back on the right track. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we also provide telehealth services for your health and safety. Please call (210) 291-0278 if you or someone you care about is struggling with mental health or addiction issues. Our team has the expertise to help your family begin the journey of recovery.