American Teens Are Struggling with Mental Health Issues in Alarming Numbers
Adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilient and more overwhelmed than their parents were when they were growing up. Parents, teachers and mental health experts are searching for the reasons and have come up with a few possible factors that may be contributing to this emotionally complex generation of young people.
“They are the post- 9/11 generation, raised in an era of national and economic insecurity,” said Susanna Schrobsdorff in the Time magazine article, ”The Kids Are Not All Right,” published in October 2016. “They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.”
Our nation and the global society are in the midst of dramatic international tension and social change, so it may be too soon to understand the specific reasons why so many young people are facing mental health issues.
Troubling Statistics on Teen Mental Health
Increasingly large numbers of teenagers are struggling with psychological troubles. Anxiety and depression in high school kids has been on the rise since 2012. The problem cuts across all demographics, from suburban to urban to rural, and affects those who are college-bound and those who are not.
“If you wanted to create an environment to turn out really angsty people, we’ve done it,” said Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. “It’s that they’re in a cauldron of stimulus they can’t get away from, or don’t want to get away from, or don’t know how to get away from.”
More than six million teens have an anxiety disorder, based on statistics from the Institute of Mental Health. And only about 20 percent of teens with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment, according to The Child Mind Institute.
In 2015, about three million teenagers between 12 and 17 had one major depressive episode during the past year, according to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services.
Stress Factors Affecting Kids
Technology that keeps kids connected 24/7, often to people they don’t really know, sometimes to troubling situations or bullying, is one likely stressor. But Instagram, Facebook and obsessive connections to Smartphones can’t be blamed for all the mental health issues.
School pressures on the academic and social levels take their toll. Young people are often encouraged to work toward their dreams, but some say there are too many pressures pushing them toward inner contradictions. For instance, Allison Heyland, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate in Maine told Time that, “I feel like it is really less realistic for you to go after your dream job today. You are more apt to go do a job that you don’t really like because it pays better and you’ll be in less debt.”
The stresses are affecting younger and younger students. Ellen Chance, co-president of the Palm Beach School Counselor Association, said online bullying is affecting kids as early as fifth grade.
“I couldn’t tell you how many students are being nasty to each other over Instagram or Snapchat,” said Chance. “I’ve had cases where girls don’t want to come to school because they feel outcast and targeted.”
Sometimes parents can be unaware of how distressed their child actually is, or if they are aware, what to do about it.
5 Steps to Help Teenagers Clarify and Deal with Mental Health Issues
- Talk About the Real Stuff – It’s important for parents to talk about subjects beyond schedules, school and chores. Make time to have more general conversations about what teens want to do, their dreams, issues that come up that may be confusing. Keep the door open and let them bring up topics.
- Avoid Getting Angry – When a teenager hides something or gets into trouble, a parent’s first response is often anger or punishment. Parents can learn more about what’s really going on by trying compassion and saying something like, “We can talk about what’s going on, if want to” or “Is there something I can do to help?”
- Keep a Balance between Space and Attention – Growing and separating from parents is a natural part of the development of teenagers. Keep an eye on their activities and be alert to changes in behavior that may be of concern, while at the same time showing an interest in who they are becoming as an individual.
- Get Help if it Seems Necessary – Don’t let things that concern you go too far. Talk with a counselor, doctor of therapist, so you can understand and work things out earlier rather than later.
- Treat the Whole Family – No teenager lives in a vacuum and family dynamics have an influence. Something at home could be causing stress and talking it over with a family counselor can go a long way toward creating healthy relationships as the teenager navigates these critical years.
Schrobsdorff, Susanna, “The Kids Are Not All Right,” Time, Oct. 27, 2016