Health & Psychology

A need for change: addressing adolescent mental health in Switzerland

Navigating adolescence has never been easy with all the physical, neurobiological, cognitive, and psychological changes that take place. The good news is that most young people master these challenges but sadly increasing numbers are experiencing difficulties. 

A recent report by UNICEF Switzerland found that one in three young people between the ages of 14-19 are struggling with their mental health. Shockingly, nearly one in two have experienced suicidal thoughts and one in eleven have acted on them. 

Various factors have been cited as contributing to these statistics including social media, bullying, academic pressures, and inadequate mental health support resources. In addition, too often, mental distress in adolescence is confused with issues related to puberty and not recognized as mental illness. If symptoms are not picked up, chronic illness can develop, hindering educational, social, and personal development. 

It is a fact that half of all mental illnesses begin before the age of 18 and three quarters before the age of 25. 

These statistics show that young people are struggling and are not getting the support they need. They highlight the fact that those working with, and caring for, young people must understand more about mental illness and become part of the prevention and early intervention approach necessary to improve the situation. This is exactly where Mental Health First Aid fits in. 

What is Mental Health First Aid? 

Mental Health First Aid training began in Australia in the year 2000. The goal was to develop a concept like that available for physical first aid, empowering lay people to provide initial support to someone with a mental health problem. The training has since been rolled out in many countries across the globe and was launched in Switzerland in 2018 by the Pro Mente Sana Foundation. Now with more than 3 million Mental Health First Aiders worldwide, the success of the programme is a result of its robust scientific basis and evidence-based course materials.

The Mental Health First Aid training programme is called ‘ensa’ in Switzerland. ‘Ensa’ means ‘answer’ in one of the Aboriginal languages, paying tribute to the Australian roots, and being translatable across the different languages used in the country. 

What is ensa Mental Health First Aid Focus Youth?

The ensa Mental Health First Aid Focus Youth course is a dedicated training aimed at adults who want to learn how to support young people struggling with their mental health. It is recommended for anyone living or working with adolescents, including parents, teachers, youth group leaders and other support staff. 

The programme covers the most common mental illnesses and crises affecting young people. It equips participants with the skills and confidence to spot the signs when a young person may be struggling with their mental health. It teaches them how to 

reach out and listen non-judgementally and then encourage the young person to seek any professional help they may need. This proactive approach can accelerate a young person’s recovery and has the potential to prevent a mental health issue from getting worse. 

The other important goal of the training is to encourage participants to look after their own mental health and so become good role models for young people entrusted to their care. 

There is definitely the need for change when it comes to addressing adolescent mental health in Switzerland. Our collective call to action must be to strive towards a future where mental and physical health are valued equally so that we live in a community where young people feel comfortable talking about their mental health and have access to the support they need. 

Want to learn more? 

HealthFirst, as a registered partner of ensa Switzerland, will be running Mental Health First Aid Focus Youth courses from May 2022 onwards. Two information sessions will be held virtually on Tuesday 3rd May 2022 where you can learn more about the ensa Youth programme and other related trainings. Visit for more information and email to register. 

Written by Dr Michelle Wright & Dr Mecky McNeil from HealthFirst.

1. schweiz-liechtenstein/psychische-gesundheit 

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