Teen Mental Health
The mental health needs of teens clearly need to be addressed. As a pediatrician, I see an increasing number of teenagers diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other emotional disorders. This rising trend may be due to the increased pressures and stress on teens in today's society. It also may be due to increased awareness and attention to mental health disorders.
It's important to understand that the mental health of teenagers is just as important as their physical health. Often a teen in emotional distress is viewed as someone going through the typical mood swings of the teenage years. They are expected to snap out of it on their own or are labeled as being strange and out of touch. They may be bullied because of their strange behavior or resort to drugs or alcohol to alleviate their emotional pain.
It's extremely important to note any behavioral changes and address them quickly before they get out of hand. Unaddressed emotional issues may lead to thoughts of committing suicide. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics suicide is among the top three leading causes of deaths in teens between the ages of 13 and 19.
Mental illness has always had a stigma attached to it. Most teens resist going to a therapist because they are embarrassed and don't want people to think they are "crazy" or are "losers." Many parents often resist bringing their teens to a counselor because they too are afraid of what other people might think.
Believe it or not, having your teen see a good therapist means you're a good parent not a bad parent. You are helping him or her develop strategies to handle the immediate situations that are bringing him down and that are preventing him from leading a healthy and productive life. Going to counseling interrupts the downward spiral that is occurring and allows your child to soar. You are steering him out of a crisis and back on to the path towards success.
Therapy is a key component to addressing every mental illness. Mild forms of depression, anxiety, and stress can be handled by talking to a counselor/therapist. More severe forms of mental illness must be addressed by stabilizing any chemical imbalances with medication prescribed by a physician, usually a psychiatrist. The goal of medication is not to "drug" your teen so he or she can't function. The goal is to get him to an emotional state that allows him to be an active participant in therapy and to allow him to function in everyday life. Medication is not necessarily life long; it can be used on a short-term basis to move your teen out of a crisis.
Mental illness is a medical condition like diabetes or asthma yet it's harder to understand because you can't measure it with a blood test or basic office procedures. The diagnosis is based more on the teen's history than on the physical exam. It seems subjective rather than black and white, but it is as real as it gets and should not be taken lightly.