Why Teen Mental Health Matters

By: S.E. Smith, Care2.com

May is Mental Health Month — an opportunity to talk about a variety of mental health issues and break down the stigma surrounding mental illness. But one issue commonly gets left out of the mental health conversation: teen and adolescent health.

It’s a particularly important topic, given that one in 5 teens has what the Office of Adolescent Health describes as a “diagnosable mental health condition.” As a chronic health condition, mental illness often onsets in people’s teens — sometimes even before age 14. Thus, understanding that mental illness is a very real issue for teens — and learning to recognize the signs — is absolutely critical to improve mental health care in the United States.

Teenagers typically undergo a lot of stress and conflicting emotions, from the hormones of puberty to the social pressures that come to bear as students enter high school. Many are exploring sexuality and gender, thinking about the future and navigating complicated interpersonal relationships. And high school can be a brutal world filled with cliques and bullying.

While there’s a growing recognition that depression and suicidal ideation are becoming more common among teens, other mental health issues can be equally serious. Mental health stigma, however, makes it difficult to discuss these experiences.

Changing the conversation on mental health is a slow process. Physicians and the general public are finally beginning to refer to mental illness as a chronic disease that must be managed throughout life.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness estimates that one in 5 people in the United States lives with a mental health condition. Half of those people experience an onset before age 14 — and three quarters before age 24.

Behaviors that people commonly write off as “teenage moodiness” are about moodiness, all right — the development of mood disorders and other psychiatric conditions. By minimizing these problems, society makes it harder for teens to access early intervention and treatment that would radically improve their quality of life, help them get control of their mental health conditions and run fewer risks of developing homelessness and societal disadvantages — like an inability to finish high school or college.

Numerous factors can influence mental health in teens. Food insecurity appears to be a risk factor, as does living in high stress conditions like poverty. Mentally ill teens can also exhibit the following symptoms: mood swings, lack of focus and motivation, aggression, suicidal behavior, self-harm, excessive sleeping, risk-taking behaviors, weight loss or gain, isolation, paranoia and expressions of hopelessness.

Historically, many of these behaviors have been attributed to “acting out” or being a sullen teenager, but in fact, they can be signs of very serious mental health conditions. The aforementioned symptoms may be indicative that a teen needs to visit the doctor for screening and a discussion about managing mental health.

Teens face the same mental health stigma that adults do — paired with the additional misperception that mental illness isn’t as common in teens as it is in adults. Many teenagers don’t understand what they’re going through when early symptoms start to develop because they aren’t educated about what to watch out for. And if they suspect they may be experiencing early signs of mental illness, they may be afraid to say anything for fear of bullying or abuse from classmates.

Mental Health Month provides an opportunity to talk frankly about teen mental health in medical and educational settings, as well as at home. If your teen exhibits signs of mental illness, or a young person in your life appears to be struggling, it’s important to reach out. Help create a safe environment to talk about mental health, as well as next steps for diagnosis and treatment.

Read orignal article here: http://www.care2.com/causes/why-teen-mental-health-matters.html#ixzz48BJwlUBZ