Less Than Half of Teens With Mental Illness Get Treatment

It’s clear that there remains a social stigma regarding psychological disorders and teen mental illness. The stigma and shame associated with “having something wrong with you” has become one of the largest barriers for teens in accessing the treatment they need. In fact, frequently adolescents are not aware that they even need treatment and believe that feeling sad or anxious is part of everyday life. It’s common that only when symptoms become debilitating, that’s when a teen might seek for help. But even in those cases, adolescents might talk to parents or friends versus a mental health professional who might be able to provide help. Sadly, less than half of adolescents with psychiatric disorders received any kind of treatment in the past year.


Another barrier to treatment is health insurance in the United States. In 2012, for instance, almost 9 percent of adolescents lacked insurance. Yet, even when they are covered, the amount of mental health services they can receive is often limited. Furthermore, if teens do not recognize that they might have an illness that needs treating, at times school professionals might notice symptoms, especially if they get in the way of school performance. However, even then, teachers much communicate those symptoms to parents who then must be willing to follow up with having their child assessed for a psychological disorder. On the whole, however, research indicates that teens who tend to need mental health services and don’t get them are those that are homeless, those that are served by state child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and LGBT teens.


Furthermore, teens who are addicted to heroin or painkillers are also frequently not getting the services they need. In America, between 2007 and 2012, the number of heroin users almost doubled. In 2007, for example, 337 thousand people were addicted to heroin in America and in 2012 that number jumped up to 669 thousand. However, research indicates that only one in ten will get treatment.


There is no question that adolescence is a time for parents and caregivers to tend to the psychological well being of their teens. This is also true of teachers and school administration. Perhaps the rise in student mental health concerns is becoming a national trend because of the many school shootings. Yet, it has been difficult for some schools to know the rates of psychological illness in their student body because they do not have the means to assess for mental illness. Screenings for mental illness has been a recommendation by federal health officials for over a decade. However, it is still not mandatory. Despite the fact that there are schools that do screen for mental health concerns, there is no consistency that takes place among all schools, what age they screen for, and what type of illness they screen.


Perhaps if there were screenings, teens might welcome the information about their mental health and encourage their parents to help them seek treatment. At the same time, as mentioned at the start, teens tend to be shy when it comes to acknowledging that they have a mental ailment of any kind. One student, for example, admitted after eventually being diagnosed with Major Depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, “I was very good at putting up a façade.” She did not want to be identified as having a mental illness because of the stigma. Many organizations, some school-related, are working towards breaking the stigma of mental illness so that more and more adolescents get the mental health treatment they need. Most psychological disorders only get worse when they go untreated.


Perhaps in time with more and more public education on mental illness and adolescence, teens will move past any social stigmas and get the support they need.