Understanding Teenagers and Mental Health
It is a common misconception that mental health is only relevant to adults. Kids and teens are often left out of the conversation and their needs are frequently written off or dismissed as unimportant.
Research shows that a person’s mental state can affect every aspect of their life, but when it comes to conversations about mental health and illness, public opinion and scientific fact can be very confusing.
So much of our understanding is built on stereotypes and stigma, but mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and knowing the facts can empower parents to better support their kids in times of need. Let's take a look at the five most pervasive (and dangerous) myths about teens and mental health.
Myth #1: Young people do not have mental health issues.
Fact: Mental illness can affect anyone regardless of age.
Due to our expectations of what “normal” adolescent development looks like, the warning signs of mental illness can be easily confused with ordinary ‘phases’ of growing up.
Maybe a habitually anxious child just needs to ‘suck it up,’ or a withdrawn and secretive teenager is just that— a typical teenager.
But hormones can only explain so much.
Although it may be convenient to brush aside the signs of mental illness, a significant number of teens and adolescents are affected by a mental health condition. The Department of Health and Human Services' most recent numbers highlight just how common anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and co-occurring conditions are for our nation's youth.
Myth #2: Mental illness is a sign of personal weakness.
Fact: Mental illness is a medical condition like any other.
Would you blame someone with diabetes, arthritis, asthma, or cancer for being sick? Or blame them for ‘faking it’ and making a big deal out of nothing?
Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
It’s harmful to assume that those with mental illness are too weak to help themselves. Not only does this belief de-legitimize the experiences of tens of millions of people in the United States, but it also creates stigma against those who may be needing or seeking support.
Myth #3: Kids with mental illness grow up to be violent and unpredictable adults.
Fact: Most people with mental illness are nonviolent individuals.
We’ve all heard the stories; the villain of some horrible crime is described as ‘crazed, unstable, and dangerous,’ and in a series of dramatic news stories, mental illness is equated to deadly potential.
However, despite the exaggerated connection between mental illness and violence in the media, “only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness.” People, including teens, who have mental health conditions look like everyone else, and they are not more likely to cause violence. This myth is harmful and completely untrue.
Myth #4: Treatment paths are ineffective for kids who struggle with mental illness.
Fact: Mental illnesses cannot be overcome by willpower alone. Treatment saves lives.
In addition to a monetary cost of over 100 billion dollars each year in the United States, “unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives” are the costs of leaving mental illnesses untreated.
On the other hand, 70 to 90 percent of individuals undergoing treatment have experienced significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life.
For a young person who is struggling with mental illness, treatments may include psychotherapy— also known as “talk therapy” or behavioral therapy— medication, or a personalized combination of these and other approaches which have proven to be very successful over the years.
Myth #5: Mental illness is caused by bad parenting.
Fact: mental illness is caused by a complicated mixture of biological and environmental elements.
While a stable home environment is important, according to the Mayo Clinic, mental illnesses “are thought to be caused by many different genetic and environmental factors” including: “inherited traits,” “environmental exposures before birth,” and “brain chemistry.”
In other words, although parents should provide a safe and supportive place for their child to call home, no single ingredient— not even bad parenting— could be fully responsible for the onset of mental illness.
If you think your child might be struggling with depression, anxiety, or considering self-harm, don't wait. Reach out today to schedule your free consultation with our therapists.