Photo Credit: Jake Cuomo

The New Normal?
The increase of mental health issues in adolescents and how it’s being handled.
Teenagers are often stereotyped as moody. Eye rolls, phone obsession, sleep deprivation, and a general lack of enthusiasm is what’s expected of most teenagers.

However, how to address a situation in which moodiness transforms into something more, like anxiety, depression, or eating disorders, is an issue on the mind of many specialists and parents today.

Adolescent mental health statistics are on the rise. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20% of youths ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition, and suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth age 10-24. Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are the most prevalent and can take over one’s life.

“A few years back, I was in a really bad place mentally; I was really depressed and my anxiety was at an all time high. It made it hard to do literally everything, even as simple as getting out of bed for the day. Most of the time, I would ask to stay home and said I felt sick. I wasn’t just lying to get a free day, I would just get so anxious to go to school that I couldn’t function.” explained a junior we’ll call Mary* from West Orange High School.

With mental illnesses such a destructive and growing problem, it’s important for teenagers who are struggling to get treated. However, it can be hard for parents to identify when mental illnesses are becoming a prevalent issue in their child.

“Normal teenagers are often moody due to hormonal and physical changes. Therefore, when mental illness is involved, it may be difficult to differentiate “normal teenage behavior” from the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other emotional difficulties.” stated Sejal Patel, a staff psychiatrist at UCF Health Services.

In addition, many teenagers are hesitant to talk to others when they are encountering issues with their mental health.

“When people would ask what was wrong, I never had an actual answer. I didn’t want to tell them, “Oh yeah, I’m just super depressed and I slept in these clothes haha.” I would just kinda shrug it off and pretend like I was fine.” elaborated Mary*.

It’s hard for parents to try to determine how their children are doing, especially teenagers, without being seen as nagging and obtrusive. However, while there is not a straight one-and-done test parents can have their children take to determine mental health, there are symptoms that can warn of mental issues. Scott Miller, the Director of the University of Oklahoma’s counseling center and chair of the Behavior Intervention Team, lists common symptoms of mental illness as: poor academic performance, rapid mood swings, withdrawal from friends and family, significant changes in eating or sleeping habits, frequent tearfulness, and more. While this list can seem large, broad, and overwhelming, there are specialists in place to help adolescents with mental health and families with determining if issues are arising, like psychologists, guidance counselors, and psychiatrists.

“The main advice I would give adolescents and their family members is that mental health issues need to be thought about in the same way we think about other health issues. Treatment for mental health issues is very effective and it is helpful to seek treatment before issues become severe.” advised Miller.

However, teenagers who try to take advantage of the psychology resource at OCPS schools are met with an overburdened system. Assuming school meets 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, (equating to 35 hours per week) and meet across 38 weeks in the school year, there are 1,330 required school hours. Now, West Orange High has a population of  about 2,045 students this year, leaving 256 students assigned to each of the 8 guidance counselors employed at West Orange. Assuming all 8 counselors meet with their assigned students evenly, that only leaves each student 5 hours to meet with their guidance counselor out of the 1,330 school hours in a year to talk about not just mental health but college applications, grades, and schedule assignments.

Making it so challenging for students to find help at school is a major problem as denying treatment when issues first arise can negatively affect teenagers for the rest of their lives.

“If untreated, these conditions severely influence children’s development, their educational attainments and their potential to live fulfilling and productive lives. Early identification and effective intervention is the key to successfully treat the disorder and prevent future disability.” warned Patel.

No matter the situation, severity, or person, though, it’s important that those going through mental health issues feel supported in their struggles.

“I would like teenagers and young adults to know that they are not alone if they are feeling depressed, anxious, or having any other issues that are affecting their life and general well being. There are many people or resources who would want to help them. I would tell family members of teenagers to allow the teenager to talk freely about their feelings and emotions without judging, teasing, or criticizing. The family member should support the teenager to go see professional help if need.” advised Patel.

It’s also important that everyone realize the extent of mental health issues, both in numbers suffering and severity.

“I want people to realize that mental health issues are very real. People try and take this lightly and make jokes about it but somewhere in the world right now, someone is really suffering. There is a really good chance that someone you know is going through some of the same things I went through.” emphasized Mary*.

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the student.

Story by:

Shelby Beck
Age 17