More and more organizations, schools, hospitals, and students are jumping on the bandwagon to stop the stigma of mental illness. For many teens, this is the primary reason that keeps them from getting the mental health support they need. Although a teen might be having suicidal thoughts or feeling the pain of depression or struggling in school because of a psychiatric condition, they will frequently keep it to themselves because they’re afraid of saying anything. They don’t want to be labeled or judged, and who can blame them?
However, if you can relate to this, you should know that your life and psychological health is more important than what others think. And although it’s easier said than done, more and more people are working to break the stigma that comes with mental illness.
For instance, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has begun the OK 2 Talk Campaign, letting teens know that they can say anything. The goal of the campaign is to create a community for teens and young adults struggling with mental health concerns. It encourages them to talk about what they’re experiencing by sharing their personal stories of recovery, tragedy, struggle or hope.
But that’s not the only organization inviting teens to talk about their mental health. The LETS (Let’s Erase the Stigma) is a student-run club at Los Altos High School in Northern California. The club was designed to help students break down the stigma of mental illness and to create more freedom for them to ask for help when they need it, instead of putting up a façade that everything is alright.
There’s also Jonathan Rottenberg, associate professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, who is determined to bring depression out of the dark. Rottenberg suffered from a severe period depression and then it took him 20 years to disclose his experience to the world. Rottenberg and students at the University of South Florida run a volunteer based organization intended to begin a new and healthier discussion of depression. To do that they are giving away free glow-in-the-dark wristbands with the words “Come Out of the Dark”.
With a similar mission, the Children’s Mental Health of Ontario Canada is in its fourth year of working to remove the taboo of psychological disorders. Each year, they invite youth between the ages of 13 to 25 to submit a video for a contest they call Change the View.
The APA’s OK 2 Talk Campaign aims to encourage not only teens but adults as well to notice symptoms of mental illness and share them with others when it’s appropriate. They suggest to take the following steps:
Notice: Notice the warning signs (see below) of mental health problems. Mental health signs usually aren’t one-time occurrences; they frequently persist over several weeks.
Talk: If you see any of the warning signs, talk directly to the teen in whom you see symptoms. Ask how he or she is doing, and be compassionate as you listen and respond. Never judge or criticize. This only adds to their fears.
Share: Make sure you share the details of what you’ve seen with someone who might be able to help that teen. For instance, you can talk to the teen’s parents, a mental health professional at school or in the community, a health professional (doctor, nurse) at school or in the community.
It’s important to know that about 11% of youth between 9 to 17 years old have a major mental health disorder that results in significant problems at home, school or with peers. That’s about 4 million teens.
Teens don’t have to make psychological symptoms worse by hiding them. Instead, when they feel the need to ask for help, they should be able to do so freely without additional anxiety and worry. Parents and teachers can facilitate this by talking to their teens. Organizations like those mentioned above are making conversations about mental health easier to have.