Being a teenager has never been easy. Maybe you are facing puberty and changing hormones, having difficulty with social acceptance or rejection. Maybe you are learning who you are and who you want to be. Mix in social media and technology and you are now adding new difficulties to what was already a challenging time.
Did you know that approx 1 in 5 adolescents have been impacted by or are currently dealing with a mental illness? Here are some of the common mental health issues that impact adolescents:
• Disruptive Behaviors (Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Conduct Disorder)
• Eating Disorders
• Substance Abuse
So, 1 in 5. That’s about 20% of our adolescent population. In a classroom of let’s say 30 kids, 6 of them are currently dealing with a mental illness. Then, according to the Office of Adolescent Health (part of the US Department of Health and Human Services) only half of kids with a mental illness are getting the help and care that they need. Half. Why are these youth not getting the help they need? One piece of the puzzle is that ugly word we keep hearing – stigma. Being a teen can be hard enough without “labels” that make kids feel different from those around them. Both teens and their family members can fear this stigma.
Another large piece of that puzzle is that we don’t always recognize the symptoms of mental illness in our adolescents. Common symptoms can include irritability, anger, withdrawing or isolating, changes in appetite or sleep, risky behaviors, substance use, extreme worry, significant changes in mood, and/or an impact on school work. We tend to think, “it’s just part of being a teen.” Or “they’ll grow out of it.” It is important that we listen to what our youth are saying. They may not recognize what’s going on or how to ask for help.
We have to ask: What happens to the half of teens not receiving treatment for their mental health issues? A lack of proper treatment and care can have a significant impact on these youth and even follow them into adulthood. Things like:
• Continued struggles with mental health including:
◦ An increase in severity of symptoms
◦ Development of additional mental health issues
• Relationship difficulties and boundary issues
• Personality disorders
• Poor social skills
• Inability to keep a job
• Suicide or Suicide Attempts
It’s kind of scary, isn’t it? Here’s where we can take a deep breath though. There are proven effective treatments for adolescents and help is out there. There is no exact recipe though. It may be counseling, medication, group therapy, inpatient treatment. The list goes on. The important thing is to be willing to seek the help and start on the journey to healing.
I hope to hear from you if your family is experiencing any of these concerns.
Empower Behavioral Health BLOG Series
By Kate Heaton, LPC