By Samantha Stundon
Teenage years are a time of rapid physical growth and profound emotional changes. In addition to the rush of hormones that occur in teenage years, the brain also enters a reconstruction period. During this time, the brain is in the process of adapting to be able to make decisions and control impulses. Teens are asked to create a plan for their lives while their brains are still developing the ability to think toward the future.
Several studies have shown an upward trend toward teen stress, suicide, mental illness and violence. Some factors for these increases include accessibility to social media, school policy changes, parenting styles and financial stresses. There are also connections between chronic stress levels and mental illnesses such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety disorders.
Statistics show that 1 in 5 adolescents currently have a diagnosable mental illness. Thirty percent of the teenage population with a mental illness has an anxiety disorder. In addition, the average age of onset for most mental illness is 14-21. So, it is likely that someone will have their first experience with mental illness during adolescence. Keeping in mind the expected stress during this life stage coupled with increase of teen mental illness and suicide, it is not only important for teens to be educated on mental health, it is essential.
A teen might not want to seek help for fear of being labeled. Remembering WALLS can help us reduce stigma surrounding mental health issues:
• Watch your language: Avoid language such as “that is so crazy” or “he is a lunatic.”
• Ask questions: Embrace the awkward and ask questions.
• Learn more: Increased knowledge means less stigma.
• Listen to experiences: Just listen. Be nonjudgmental.
• Speak out: Use your voice to make a difference.
The school is the second most important influence in a child’s life aside from family. Schools can host presentations for high school students where this information is provided by a mental health professional. Teenagers crave independence, so allowing them to gain the knowledge and seek out help on their own will create confidence. It will also make for more progress in therapy if teens are actively seeking help on their own rather than being coerced by a parent or guardian. However, parental education is also essential. Parents who are supportive of teenagers and see their struggles as valid will empower their children.
While teenagers today encounter many struggles, they also express great resilience. The earlier help is received, the better in terms of mental health.
Samantha Stundon LSW, school social worker, is a graduate student at Winebrenner Theological Seminary.