The Stigma with Teen Mental Health

March 19, 2021 2:28 PM

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Image of a therapist taking notes during a therapy session. Photo courtesy of Paulina Zimmerman via Pexels.

Image of a therapist taking notes during a therapy session. Photo courtesy of Paulina Zimmerman via Pexels.

Editor’s note: This article discusses mental illness and suicide. If you’re struggling, please reach out to one of the supports listed at the bottom of this article.

Teens and young adults don’t talk about their mental health enough. Perhaps this is because they are ashamed, or maybe they feel written off by adults and don’t feel like they can express themselves to the right people. Even if many of us know it’s important to talk about mental health, we often stray away from talking about it. We may pass it off as “teenage angst,” but in reality, there is so much more is going on. Some of us lift others up in a time of need, but at the same time, we forget to think of ourselves and our own needs in the process.  

With that said, we need to talk to our teens and check in with them on how they are doing and feeling. If they are looking for someone to talk to, let’s get them the help they need. If they claim they are fine, make sure they know that asking for or needing help is always okay and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Resources and support systems will always be ready and waiting for them. 

In 2014, 40% of teens in the United States have been counseled in a clinic, according to the American Psychologist Association (APA). This number is far too low when we have so many qualified people nationwide to help. Government spending has been unhelpful for this issue, with only 5.5% of the healthcare budget is spent on mental health. Certainly, given the challenges that teens are facing, there should be more money and greater access to mental health for teens. This is especially true for teens that are unable to get help; they don’t have the money for care and the government won’t increase spending on this important issue.

According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the third leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-19. Suicide is not random. Oftentimes, these thoughts and plans have been building up for a while. It’s heartbreaking to think that so many of these young people thought dying was better than living. Some teens might have felt alone, while others might have felt unneeded. Whatever the reason, if someone took the time to talk to them and offer them the help they needed, so many of these outcomes could end up less tragic. Talking out a problem or a feeling can make us feel so much better. Maybe talking is not enough to fix or solve whatever challenges persist, but trying to make a difference is certainly a good starting place.

Some teens turn to substance use or abuse as a way to cope with what they are going through. They believe drinking alcohol or doing drugs can help them feel better. In an article focusing on teen mental health and substance abuse, the Child Mind Institute says, “substance use can quiet negative thoughts that plague depressed kids”. These methods aren’t just an outlet to stop bad thoughts, they are also tools teens use to “cheer themselves up”, lift spirits, and distract from problems at hand.

Substance use and abuse aren’t the only way teens cope with their mental health. Some also take unnecessary risks. The World Health Organization stated, “taking risks can be both an unhelpful strategy to cope with poor mental health and can severely impact on adolescents’ mental health and well being.” While taking these risks may be invigorating for teens, like alcohol and drugs the high they are chasing is only temporary. As a result, teens are ultimately putting themselves at greater risk for harm. 

Some might say that teens cannot have mental health issues because they are “too young” and do not yet understand themselves. In reality, teen and young adult years are the prime age for self-discovery. Teens are self-aware; our emotions can be strong, and it’s important for us to be able to talk to someone. The simple act of listening can change the whole world for a teen going through a difficult time. Just knowing that there is someone taking the time to talk, showing how much they care, and validating these difficult feelings is powerful; it might just save a life. That’s why going to a mental health professional can help open up conversations about serious problems like depression, anxiety, or other important issues and challenges affecting mental health. We are never “too young” to understand ourselves on an elevated level and know how to find ways to examine our mental health in a healthy, successful way. 

With that being said, let’s all try to listen or talk or try to understand each other to help make sure any of our friends going through a tough time are able to get the help they need and deserve. Let me leave you with this: How different would it be if we all took more time to talk to teens, understand their feelings, and help lead them to the right resources? Think about this the next time you check in on your friends—let’s do better and be better.

If you our someone you know is in need of help or support, consider reaching out to these resources:

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255 and crisis textline: 741741
  • The Trevor Project Hotline: 1-866-488-7386

If you are interested in mental health treatment, you can research options and apply for financial support using the To Write Love on Her Arms Find Help Tool

If you are in crisis, you can reach the Samaritan’s Hotline by phone call or text message at 877.870.4673 or chat online at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

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