Many teens today have a mental illness. They are struggling with depression, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) or bipolar disorder. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), just over 20% of teens (ages 13-18), either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental disorder. This equates to about 1 in 5 adolescents.
What’s more startling is that many of these teens never seek treatment. Although there might be many reasons for this (parents don’t know that there is anything wrong, teens don’t report anything, parents can’t afford treatment, etc). Whatever the reason there is a high number of adolescents who require some form of mental health service and who don’t receive it.
One of the more debilitating mental health experiences is trauma. A teenager is already vulnerable to certain psychological and emotional stressors at this stage of life. It’s a time of discovering identity, purpose, and a life direction. It’s a time of figuring out who they are. In their aim to do this, a teen might experience the following:
- Struggle with sense of identity
- Feeling awkward or strange about one’s self and one’s body
- Focus on self, alternating between high expectations and poor self-esteem
- Interests and clothing style influenced by peer group
- Improved ability to use speech to express one’s self
- Realization that parents are not perfect; identification of their faults
- Less overt affection shown to parents, with occasional rudeness
- Complaints that parents interfere with independence
- Tendency to return to childish behavior, particularly when stressed
Teens are at a crossroads between childhood and adulthood, and susceptible to emotional upheaval, confusion, and turmoil. Their emotional and psychological foundations are already shaky. For this reason, if a teenager also experiences trauma, he or she might be incredibly vulnerable to mental illness. An experience that is considered traumatic is one that threatens the injury, death, or physical integrity, and is usually accompanied by terror and helplessness. A traumatic event could be the death of a friend or family member, sexual or physical abuse, an automobile accident, domestic violence, school violence, experiences of war, the effects of natural disasters, and acts of terrorism.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), more than 2/3 of children report experiencing trauma before the age of 16. As a result of experiencing such an intense ordeal, along with feeling powerless to do anything about it, psychological symptoms often result. Although, each adolescent will respond to certain experiences differently, there are common indications that point to whether a mental illness exists.
For instance, the symptoms that develop after experiencing trauma include:
- Feeling numb, detached, or emotionally unresponsive
- Amnesia of parts or all of the traumatic event
- De-realization, a symptom in which the environment seems strange or unreal
- De-personalization, a symptom in which thoughts and feelings do not seem real
- Flashbacks or recurring images of the trauma
- Feelings of reliving the traumatic event
- Feeling high levels of stress when an object or person reminds you of the event
- Avoiding people, objects, and places that stimulate reliving the trauma
- Trouble sleeping
- Chronic tension
- Easily startled
- Difficulty concentrating
- Inability to sit still
As you can imagine, these symptoms can get in the way of your child functioning well in school, at home or work, or in any extracurricular activities. You might see a drop in grades, unhealthy family interactions, or a loss of interest in social activities. Considering the already shaky psychological ground upon which teens walk, you can imagine the debilitating effects that trauma can have. If you’re aware that your teen needs support, here are some resources to consider:
- Find a mental health clinic in your community. Some of them might be low-cost or free.
- Talk to the mental health professionals at your teen’s school.
- Call a psychologist/therapist in your community and ask if they work on a sliding scale.
These are always resources out there if you’re determined to find them for your child. Your teen deserves the support of mental health services so that he or she can enjoy life and succeed.