Ending the stigma: on the mental health of teens
It’s not uncommon to see students on social media talk about wanting to “take a mental health day” and stay home or to hear side conversations about it in the halls. With this trend on the rise, the conversation about school and mental illness has become a popular one.
The combination of adolescents and mental illness isn’t a new one – according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five children between the ages of 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness. Despite 20 percent of children in this age group being affected, serious discussion about these illnesses seems to have only recently begun.
“I believe that mental health issues are arising, or becoming more apparent in teens, given the normal issue of hormonal change along with the pressures that students are dealing with in their attempts to juggle academic pressures, athletic/school activity commitments, job responsibilities, home responsibilities and social relationships,” school psychologist Cari Tyler said.
For a variety of reasons, mental illness has continuously been stigmatized by society. In schools, mental health is not a widely-discussed topic of high priority, unless an event such as a school shooting, bullying epidemic or student suicide occurs.
“Mental health problems generally have a bad reputation in society, as do things like therapy and medication to correct them. Something people need to understand is that a lot of people have these problems and getting help for them is the same as going to the doctor when you’re sick,” junior Emily Jones said.
In 2013, National Public Radio (NPR) conducted a poll where almost 40 percent of parents said their high school child was experiencing a lot of stress from school. Chronic stress can increase the risk of developing health problems such as obesity, cancer and a weakened immune system; studies als
o show a relationship between stress and the development of anxiety disorders and depression.
While it is common for students to experience stress, many parents and students are not educated on how to differentiate between stress and symptoms of mental illness.
“If parents begin to see that periods of sadness, anxiety, withdrawal, feeling overwhelmed last for more than a few days they may want to get further input from
professionals. Other signs that may alert concerns include the following: extended periods of silence, substance abuse, extreme highs and lows, suicidal ideation/attempts, neglect of personal appearance, change of eating/sleeping habits,” said Tyler.
If a parent is concerned about their student and their stress level or mental health, it is important to have a conversation with their student as well as a pediatrician or mental health specialist in order to ensure that nothing progresses further than it has to.