Teen Mental Health Treatment: Their Psychological Illnesses are Often Neglected

According to a recent survey, less than half of American teens are receiving treatment for their psychological disorders. And, those who do get teen mental health treatment rarely see a therapist or psychologist. The research gathered information from more than 10,000 teens ages 13 to 17 across the country and their answers revealed that the rates of teens receiving treatment varied according to the illness.


For instance, teens with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder received mental health care more than 70 percent of the time. This is a significantly high number. However, it also reveals that 30 percent of teens with this disorder are not getting the treatment they need. At the same time, teens with phobias or anxiety disorders were far less likely to be treated. Along these lines, African American teens were also far less likely to receive psychological treatment than their than Caucasian teens.


Certainly, there are many reasons for this. Teens might have already been assessed and a diagnosis provided. Yet, he or she might refuse to take medication and, more adamantly, say no to therapy. Parents may not want to push the issue and they drop it.


On the other hand, parents themselves might not see the need for therapy or teen mental health treatment. This can be particularly true during adolescence when they see their child behaving in odd ways, appearing sullen or depressed, or expressing anxiety, but they dismiss as being a part of being a teenager.


And in other cases, a teen might simply be hiding their disorder from parents and peers for a variety of reasons. One popular reason is that mental illness continues to be seen as a stigma. Rarely does a teen want to admit that he or she is depressed or anxious or has been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. It translates as there being something wrong with who they are. During adolescence, a life stage in which social acceptance is a significant need, admitting to a mental illness can be detrimental for a teen.


At the same time, the country is seeing more and more suicide and violence towards others, such as shooting students at school, in the news. Teens are turning violent, and in a way they appear to be crying for help. The mental health of adolescents is becoming a significant need to tend to. Doing so will help prevent the disastrous stories we hear of teens hurting each other or themselves, such as one recent story of a teen stabbing a close friend of his because she would not go to the prom with him.


In another story, John Ladue, age 17, from a small town south of Minneapolis, was arrested prior to committing a horrible crime. He had laid out extensive plans, gathered ammunition, and intended to make an attack on his family as well as at his school in a few weeks. “I think I’m just really mentally ill,” Ladue told the police, “And no one’s noticed, and I’ve been trying to hide it.”


Another example is a well-liked, popular, and accomplished teen at Los Altos High School in California. She received a text from her parents while in class last year. The text read that she and her parents needed to talk about her grades. As a star student and athlete, she had received all A’s in her classes except for a D. When she asked to be excused from her English class to go to the bathroom after receiving the text, she never returned. Instead, she collapsed in the bathroom from an emotional breakdown. Later, the student did not want to be identified as having a mental illness because of the stigma. “I was very good at putting up a façade,” she admitted after eventually diagnosed with Major Depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.


In order to encourage teen mental health treatment, parents need to be educated about the differences between psychological illness and what’s typical for adolescence. At the same time, teens should be encouraged to attend treatment when they feel they might need it.




Costello, E. et al. (November 18, 2013). Services for adolescents with psychiatric disorders: 12-month data from the National Co-morbidity Survey – Adolescent. Psychiatric Services 2013: DOI: 10.1176/appi.ps.200100518.