Neglecting Teen Mental Health Can Lead to Problems Later

The well respected journal Pediatrics recently published a study that might catch the attention of parents. The study found that if the well-being of teenagers is not tended to during adolescence, any problems might develop into larger concerns later in life.  Perhaps it goes without saying that certain problems can grow into larger ones. However, it’s easy for parents to dismiss teen problems as being a general part of adolescence. And this is particularly true for mental health concerns.


In fact, nearly one in five teens has specific physical and mental health concerns that are not receiving the proper attention. The problem with this is that this could create problems later in the life of that teen and possibly making any symptoms a teen may be experiencing worse. Prior to this study, experts have known that lack of professional care for teen physical and mental health concerns was associated with general poor health as well as high risk behaviors. However, the difference with this study is that they were able to make a correlation between a teen’s current health concerns and those that may exist in adulthood. In other words, certain health concerns for teens can persist into adulthood.


The study was done in two parts, gathering data from 14,800 teens across the nation. The first stage of the study had teens answer questions during 1994-1995, when they were 16 years old. The second stage happened in 2008 when those same participants were 30 years old. Among the responses that the researchers received during the first phase, 19% of the teens reported that they had health concerns which were not being treated. The adolescents tended to experience problems such as headaches, infections, asthma, diabetes, anxiety, and depression.


During the second phase, when the participants were responding as adults, researchers focused on five areas of health: having overall poor health, difficulty with daily activities, taking extra time off work or school, depression symptoms, and suicidal thoughts. The responses revealed that those who had unmet health needs as teens tended to experience problems in all of the above areas, except for taking time off work. Those teens who did not have their issues addressed were 52% more likely to have problems having to do with daily activities. They also had a 27% greater risk of having poor health, 36% greater odds of having symptoms of depression, 30% greater chances of having suicidal thoughts.


There were many reasons why teens reported not being able to get their needs addressed during adolescence. However, 15% of them reported that cost was the primary factor. However, teens and their families might stay away from getting the professional help they need because of stigma, not having a doctor or mental health provider, lack of knowledge about a problem, and lack of engagement in a health care system.


This study alone might encourage parents to tend to the emotional, psychological, and physical needs of their children. It might also encourage teens to seek out the help they need themselves. It’s easy to ignore a problem and hope it goes away, especially if there is not the money to address it. However, physical and mental health concerns might lead to greater problems later, as this study suggests.