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Teen Mental Illness Rates Are Climbing in the U.S.

Teen Mental Illness Rates Are Climbing in the U.S.
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Various research centers and statistics from sources all over the country indicate that mental illness rates among American teens have been steadily rising for years. Analysts and professionals in the mental health treatment field propose several possible reasons for this trend. Access to social media and advanced communication technologies expose children to more of the world at a much younger age. Many teens also face pressure from their families and society, in general, to perform well in school. This often spurs into destructive patterns that eventually deteriorate mental health.

Everyone should know the driving forces behind the trend of increasing mental illness rates among U.S. teens, especially parents of at-risk kids. Mental health is a crucial component of healthy development for everyone, and mental health issues that develop during the formative years and adolescence can have a profound effect on an individual’s shift to adulthood.

What Is Mental Illness?

Teens experience a wide range of emotional development issues in the adolescent years. This is the time most people form the foundations of their identities, and modern life is incredibly fast-paced. Some teens display signs of mental illness that parents dismiss as acute responses to specific incidents or general “growing pains.” However, the reality is that parents must stay vigilant for signs of mental illness in their kids and take steps to prevent these issues from interfering with healthy development.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health announced that between 2005 and 2014, rates of depression among American teens increased about 37%. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that about three million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 have at least one major depressive episode per year.

Some of the most common mental health issues facing American teens include anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Anxiety can appear acutely in specific circumstances, such as a student worrying about an upcoming exam. Everyone experiences periods of depression after traumatic experiences or difficult life circumstances, while others naturally have chemical imbalances that make normal functioning very difficult. Teens who experiment with drugs and alcohol are more likely to abuse illicit substances in the future. An addiction that manifests during adolescence can be extremely destructive with long-term consequences.

Environmental Factors in Mental Health

Environmental factors such as home life, relationships with parents and siblings, school environment, and peer pressure can all have a profound influence on a teen’s mental health and overall development. Parents have a responsibility to ensure their children grow up to be functional members of society, and every child faces a unique process in this regard.

Environmental factors like pressure from school, pressure or abuse from parents or other family members, and interpersonal issues with friends can sometimes contribute to mental health disorders. Since 1949, May has been Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States.

While this month offers a great opportunity to explore mental health-related issues in your family, the reality is that any time is a good time to discuss mental health issues with teens. This is especially true if your teen is displaying signs and symptoms of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

Is Drug Addiction a Mental Illness?

The ongoing opioid epidemic in the U.S. is a multifaceted issue with many different angles. While there is no single cause, one dangerous aspect of the opioid crisis is that it affects all demographics indiscriminately. Virtually every community in every area of the U.S. has experienced some negative effects of the opioid crisis, and teens are among those most heavily impacted.

Many teens participate in team sports that carry a risk of injury. When a teen suffers such an injury or any other injury requiring pain management, it is very easy to fall into chemical dependency when taking a prescription opioid painkiller. Other pain medications have similar habit-forming properties. Many drug addiction cases occur unintentionally; people suffer injuries or struggle with medical conditions and they become addicted to their pain medications.

While drug abuse entails many physical effects, it is ultimately a mental health issue. An individual struggling with substance abuse may be using alcohol or other drugs to cope with a preexisting mental health disorder or acute stress. Identifying and addressing these patterns as early as possible offers the best chance of overcoming them.

Identifying Signs of Addiction and Other Mental Health Problems

Parents should stay vigilant for marked changes in their kids’ behavior. While some changes may simply be the results of the usual emotionally tumultuous teenage years, others may indicate an addiction or mental illness in teens.

  • Sudden decrease in school performance could be due to a mental health issue or substance abuse.
  • Marked changes in personality could be the symptoms of drug withdrawal or a sign of a developing addiction.
  • Teens with a lost interest in activities they used to enjoy may not be going through a phase and, instead, experience difficulty handling a mental health disorder.
  • Unexplained feelings of general anxiety or depression symptoms unrelated to specific incidents or issues could indicate the manifestation of a mental health disorder.
  • Signs of depression may not only indicate a mental health issue but also a substance abuse problem. About one in four adults who struggle with mental health issues also suffer from substance abuse.

Talking to a teen about substance abuse is rarely an easy conversation due to the mental illness stigma pervasive in American culture. However, it is a necessary one if parents wish to see their struggling children recover from substance abuse or another mental health issue.

Finding Treatment

Depression and anxiety are just two of the most common mental illnesses facing American teens today. Substance abuse is a pervasive issue throughout the U.S, and teens are at a particularly vulnerable part of their lives where both mental illness and substance abuse can easily become more relevant issues. Addressing these issues as early as possible offers the best chance of avoiding addiction and the dangerous repercussions of unchecked mental illness.

When a teenager exhibits signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder and a drug addiction, this is known as a co-occurring disorder. Acceptance Recovery Center can assist in the initial assessment and diagnosis of your loved one. From there, we identify an individualized treatment program to get them on track and provide you needed piece of mind.

Ask About A Free Behavioral Health Assessment for Your Teen

About Dr. Greg Gale, MD

Dr. Greg Gale has been practicing and providing leadership in the field of psychiatry, substance use, and integrated care in the Phoenix metropolitan area for over 11 years. He joins us from his role as a national medical director overseeing behavioral health, substance use, and integrated care services for Humana Behavioral Health. Previously, he was CMO and VP of Clinical Services at Partners in Recovery, a not-for-profit behavioral health and substance use service organization, which operates five clinics throughout Maricopa County. Read more about Dr. Greg Gale, MD 

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