Navigating 2024: Trends Affecting Youth Mental Health

A group of students stands against a blue wall as they smile and look at each other.

By John MacPhee

We’ve been excited to kick off the new year here at The Jed Foundation (JED), since 2024 marks a particularly important milestone: our 25th anniversary. Fueled by the profound loss of Jed, their 20-year-old son, Phil and Donna Satow established The Jed Foundation with a shared vision of creating a world where no families would endure the heartache they experienced. Reflecting on the past 25 years, we take pride in the substantial progress we have made in advancing mental health awareness and reducing suicide risks for teens and young adults.

Just in the past year, we formed a partnership with AASA, the School Superintendents Association, and introduced a comprehensive approach to mental health and suicide prevention for school districts. We also reduced mental health stigma and encouraged help-seeking through our collaboration with celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion and K-Pop superstar WONWOO of SEVENTEEN, and built powerful advocacy partnerships at the inaugural JED Policy Summit

We’ve also seen a growing dedication to providing mental health resources on college campuses. 2023 was a record-setting year for our JED Campus program. Nearly 100 new schools joined, bringing the total to over 500 schools across 44 states, representing nearly 6 million students. Even with those successes, though, it’s clear there is still a lot of work to be done. 

Looking forward to the year ahead, there are several trends that we anticipate will influence youth mental health and well-being. With that in mind, we’re working with policymakers, education leaders, and community organizations to proactively address these topics. 

The 2024 Election

The 2024 election season kicked off over the past couple weeks, with the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. We know young people are already experiencing intense emotions about the potential outcomes. We recommend that youth practice self-care, including moderating their news intake. We also encourage young people to consider channeling their concerns into civic engagement. There are many ways for youth to get involved in the civic process, from voting for the first time to volunteering with others who are passionate about creating change.

Social Media

Social media can provide youth with community and a sense of belonging, but we also have clear data indicating that, for many young people, social media use and the practices of some social media companies can lead to comparisons and negative body image, exposure to harmful content, and cyberbullying. Last year, the Surgeon General issued a Social Media and Youth Mental Health Advisory calling for a “safety-first” approach, and we hope 2024 brings a renewed commitment to creating safe online spaces for young people. With schools banning cell phone usage, we are starting to see new initiatives and regulations to protect youth from the negative effects of unsafe social media. The ongoing lawsuit against Meta also presents an opportunity for the community and government to learn more about the practices that have been deployed to youth. The case will illuminate the effects of social media on young people, and enable us to better advocate for the implementation of more protective regulations and measures for young social media users.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

We sit at the cusp of another technological revolution, and 2024 will continue to reveal the ways AI will shape all of our futures. AI tools will become further embedded into the lives of teenagers. AI and other technological advancements present many risks and ethical dilemmas that we must take seriously. As outlined in JED’s recent report, Can the Metaverse Be Good for Youth Mental Health?, however, advancing technology also offers a wealth of opportunities. It’s imperative that we choose wisely how we use these new resources and center the rights and well-being of youth in their development and deployment.

Our Shifting Educational Landscape and Changing Workforce

It has been nearly four years since the start of COVID-19, and it’s clear the pandemic has had a lasting impact on how students receive their education. From the increase in homeschooling to remote and hybrid class options, there are more educational opportunities than ever before. But traditional school environments provide a lot more than academics; they often deliver mental health screenings and services. They also offer a crucial opportunity for young people to interact in person, practice social and emotional skills, and create communities that give them a sense of belonging. Similar concerns exist in the workplace, where young adults entering largely remote workforces face increased risks of social isolation. Shifts toward virtual learning and remote work raise the question: How can we support young people in building strong connections and meaningful relationships beyond the school and office walls?

Economic Mobility and Youth Financial Stress

We anticipate finances will continue to play a central role in the decisions youth and families make, particularly when considering higher education and career options. Artificial intelligence will also strongly influence these pathways, creating more uncertainty about young people’s financial futures. JED’s recent report, Youth Suicide: Current Trends and the Path to Prevention, highlights how economic hardship, and particularly debt, negatively impacts young people’s mental health. Between continued inflation, predatory lending, and the privatization of education, financial security and predictability will likely remain a top stressor. To address those concerns, we must strengthen social safety nets that provide access to housing, food, education, and health care. The implementation and enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which ensures that mental health is covered by insurance in a similar manner to physical health, will also be a critical lever to ensure that cost is not a barrier to mental health care.

Changing Models of Care

The COVID pandemic accelerated telebehavioral health services so quickly that they are now becoming commonplace. Therapy that requires youth to sit on a couch face to face with a provider is no longer the only option. The flexibility of telehealth is revolutionizing access for individuals in isolated communities, but we also wonder what we lose when interactions take place through a screen. If providers have limited access to clients’ body language, in what ways will it impact treatment and recovery? Telehealth also can present challenges to clients’ privacy. We hope 2024 brings additional research into the efficacy of telebehavioral health models, and we call on telehealth providers to share data with independent researchers to make necessary studies possible.

Looking Ahead

All these potential challenges bring with them potential opportunities to enhance the lives of young people nationwide. We’re excited to hit the ground running this year with impactful initiatives and innovative partnerships.

The District Comprehensive Approach and Postvention Services

JED launched a new district comprehensive approach last year, and we anticipate 2024 will be a year of growth. Currently, we are piloting an initial cohort of 16 school districts, representing 503 schools and more than 317,000 students across 14 states. We are excited that our new partnership with AASA will help us scale our approach, training cohorts of superintendents to implement a comprehensive approach in their districts.

Expanding Policy Work for Systemic Impact

JED’s 2023 Policy Summit introduced three levers for transformative policy change: community engagement, coalition building, and foundational practices. Those building blocks will guide JED’s approach to upcoming policy initiatives, projects, and partnerships. Through our policy work, JED aims to improve youth mental health outcomes, enhance accessibility, and provide support across diverse populations.

At JED, we equip America’s teens and young adults with the skills and support they need to grow into healthy, thriving adults. None of us knows exactly what 2024 will bring, but we’re working to stay ahead of the curve so we can anticipate the types of skills we need to foster in today’s youth.

Get Help Now

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.