Population Health

December 4, 2019

Creating mental health friendly cities for youth

Image of young adults standing on a beachWhat would it take to make Seattle a mental health friendly city for young people? What innovations and actions might promote adolescent mental health in Seattle, as a model for other cities?

The Population Health Initiative recently partnered with the University of Washington’s Global Mental Health program and Urban@UW to host an in-depth conversation with a multidisciplinary group of participants, including researchers, mental health professionals and young people to begin searching for answers to these question.

Adolescence brings unique opportunities and risks for mental health and well-being. Fifty percent of mental disorders present in adulthood begin by the age of 14; 75% are present by age 24. At the same time, adolescents are experiencing the global phenomenon of increasing urbanization, with 55% of people inhabiting cities around the world.

The convening engaged participants in a discussion around specific threats to youth mental health in Seattle. Topics such as bias, a lack of connectedness and community spaces, as well as the high cost of living and inadequate integrated services around mental health were noted to be major areas for action around improving mental health for young people in Seattle.

Ideas to address these threats included promoting peer support for mental health, a greater investment in support for youth and their families and creating more inclusive spaces for youth in the city. Youth leadership and involvement was seen to be an indispensable component of any solution to make Seattle a city that truly values mental health in adolescents.

The learnings from this convening will inform a larger, global conversation around youth mental health in cities. A three-round Delphi process to obtain input from a diverse set of stakeholders on the characteristics of a mental health friendly city is currently being conducted in partnership with the UW, citiesRISE and the University of Melbourne.