Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health: Urgency in Addressing Teen Mental Illness

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Updated: Aug 22, 2023
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Imagine a society where individuals are blamed for being diagnosed with terminal diseases, such as cancer. Being told their life choices lead to this illness or that they are making up the diagnosis for attention. This is the case for many people suffering from mental illnesses. According to a New York Times article, sixty-two percent of adolescents reported having ‘overwhelming anxiety’ in the past year. Alongside that, hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers have increased greatly, doubling in the past century (Denizet).

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Although the stigma surrounding mental health issues and speaking out is quite intimidating, drawing attention to the seriousness and impact this has on teens is essential.

Prejudice and Lack of Resources

Prat Wingert, the author of Young and Depressed, featured on News Week, discusses how frequent teenagers struggling with depression never get the help they need due to prejudiced opinions on mental illnesses, inadequate mental health resources, and the widespread ignorance of how intensely emotional problems can wreck young lives (Wingert). There is such a strong negative stigma attached to mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, OCD, and many others. This type of shaming can cause many adolescents to refuse treatment for fear their peers will mock, harass or bully them. Many teens get teased daily for taking multiple types of medications daily just to get out of bed in the morning. Seeking counseling support or medications should not have such a negative opprobrium; after all, if a patient with cancer was seeking chemotherapy, who in their right mind would deny the treatment? Without treatment, any terminal illness becomes life-threatening.

Self-Harm and Misconceptions

The shame surrounding mental health can also be found in a correlated activity of self-harm. The truth is many people who engage in acts of injuring themselves intentionally do not undertake these actions in a suicidal way. It’s a very toxic and morbid form of copping in which roughly one-half to one-third of teens partake (Peterson). Teens who are very impulsive and upset at themselves may reach out to this ‘coping skill’ as it gives the body a reaction similar to a ‘high.’ When injured, the body will release endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and cortisone, which may trigger a state of euphoria that releases stress and numbs the pain, which is the reasoning behind many people reasoning behind doing such. This action is commonly glorified on social media as ‘beauty’ and ‘goth cultural,’ “Over two-hundred-thousand Tumblr blogs have been reported to containing pictures, videos, and text posts of teenagers hurting themselves, possibly triggering others to do so too” (Megan). A prime example of the stigma surrounding self-harming behaviors is the myth people do it just for attention, “A nurse had warned the psychiatrist that Tina was ‘borderline’ and ‘gamey,’ stating, ‘She just cut herself for attention. Don’t let her manipulate you.’ However, after an extensive interview with Tina, there were sufficient criteria to merit a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder” (Peterson). Many adolescents will most likely wear long sleeves to hide the markings and keep out of societies judging eye. Therefore, the stigma surrounding self-harming and the belief that teens pursue this for attention is wrong. If anything, when a person points out their scars, they will make excuses and act shamefully of their actions.

Inadequate Support and Barriers

According to Penny Williams, author of Lack of Mental Health Care for Children Reaches ‘Crisis’ Level, approximately half of all teenagers struggle with some form of mental disorder. However, only seven-point-four percent of those children seek recovery. Not giving potentially life-threatening illnesses like these the proper recognition and treatment they need can result in the extremism of symptoms creating great risks such as dropping out of school or incarceration, self-medicating with drugs/alcohol, or even attempting/committing suicide (Williams). Barriers to getting help can include misunderstanding, strongly negative stigma, and parents being unsupportive and unwilling to accept their child may be slightly different and need accommodations. Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz states, “Kids are amazingly resilient if they have the support and tools to overcome these challenges-but; the dangers are real” (WIlliams). Implies that children can be provided with the correct accommodations for these mental disorders and seek treatment, overcoming their disabilities will become significantly easier.

Addressing the Issues

Providing citizens with affordable health care and insurance can help cover counseling, medications, and psychotherapy costs. Which evidently can be greatly beneficial when attempting to reduce the percentage of adolescents struggling with mental illnesses. Medicare companies are now required to offer inpatient services. However, many copayments and deductibles remain unaffordable to low-income families. Also, some insurance companies place limits on the quality of mental health care and how frequently these services are readily available (Burgess). To assist in not letting finances get in the way of quality counseling appointments or therapy visits, government programs should include free or reduced-cost counseling, as well as low-priced training for service/emotional support animals. In order to increase the percentage of adolescents seeking help, on-site school-based mental health services would be greatly beneficial, along with nationwide laws enhancing confidentiality protections for children of age thirteen and plus, securing your privacy, and if wished upon, having your parents/guardians never notified of your appointment or what was discussed. A confidentiality law would benefit greatly, as over fifty-five percent of youth would not seek mental care if parental notification was required (Burgess). Online services with professional counselors or even volunteers with therapeutic training would definitely encourage more young adults to reach out and get help, as they are always online anyways, and it’s greatly efficient if getting a ride to a doctor’s office is a struggle or burden.

Access to Mental Health Care

Mental health care is exorbitant; there’s not much we can do about it. There is a need for more counselors, as the typical wait to see a new one is anywhere from three weeks to three months. Definitely too long of a wait time for any impulsive teen who is immensely struggling. On top of that, young adolescents typically need a therapist who is skilled with younger people; currently, throughout America, there are roughly eight-thousand-three hundred psychiatrists trained with the youth, but there are around fifteen-million teenagers and children in need of someone. That’s roughly one psychiatrist for every one-thousand-eight-hundred kids, an impossible ratio (Weinstein). Training more mental health/peer specialists from a diverse variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds with a variety of sexual orientations is also a must in order to expand access to culturally competent care. Another expensive component to benefit the system would be technology to access out-of-district therapists or patients who are unable to leave their houses. Quite a few of these demands are impossible to meet; there are just too many suffering young adults for the number of adolescent-based counselors out there. These demands still will fall short of helping everyone address their mental health concerns; there are not enough providers, this is all very expensive, and treatment does not necessarily mean someone is going to get well. After all, “a doctor spending a few minutes with a child cannot possibly know the difference between a passing cloud of sadness indicating unresolved grief and loss and an actual psychosis disorder (Roleff 109)

Medications and Therapy

No one truly knows for sure if medications even work for adolescents; there is such a small amount of research done on the effects these drugs have on the still-growing brain. Antidepressants can cause an increase in suicidal thoughts, angst, spasms, and confusion. Medicine controlling mental health and levels of chemicals are so hazardous the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) requires a black box warning on every prescribed antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and any other psychosis pills. A black box warning appears on a prescribed drug’s label to call attention to serious or life-threatening risks the Medicine can cause (US Food and Drugs). Consistently, kids who seem slightly sad or on edge are prescribed pills instantly; they are taught these ‘magic pills’ will result in happiness and ease of all anxiety, a false belief. “If we teach our children that pills will make them feel better, how can we then tell them not to try a joint or a few drinks to lift their spirits? (Roleff 110) Teaching young, maturing children antidepressants will instantly make them happier, mixed along with Eli Lilly (the company which produces Prozac) has introduced a peppermint-flavored version of the pill, encouraging many young people to take the drug (role 109). Rather than having a discussion with their child about their well-being and addressing their problems, parents are just pilling pills on top of pills. Another way for parents to avoid their child’s problems. Some say giving young adult medication to solve all their problems rather than addressing their mental health concerns can be seen as a form of child abuse (Roleff 110).

Taking each opposing argument’s perspective into consideration, it has been shown that recovery can vary from person to person. Meds may work for one person when they increase another’s suicidal thoughts. Talk therapy may work for one person when it makes another person more anxious talking their problems through with the judgment of a counselor. Each person must try different forms of rehabilitation until they find which one works the best with their body//brain. Overall, mental health care is indeed too expensive; having government-funded counseling visits, medical supplies, etc., is a great idea. Also, psychiatrists do indeed prescribe a very high percentage of pills compared to those with mental diagnosis; it is important to take more thorough evaluations before forcing medication on someone for an illness they may not even have, as sometimes, children get misdiagnosed with depression when it’s truly just a passing cloud of sadness. These solutions will efficiently improve the flaws within America’s mental health care, along with breaking the stigma against mental illnesses, and show our nations; sometimes it’s okay to not be okay.

Ending the Stigma

Therefore, speaking out about mental well-being, whether the platform used to gather attention is on social media, youtube, a public speech, or just one-on-one with a trusted person, draws attention to the topic of mental health. Anxiety and depression should not be such a taboo topic to discuss; after all, a little over one-half of adolescents experience symptoms that are very likely to be linked to mental health. As a society, we are accepting of any body part breaking down other than the brain, “Unfortunately, we live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign the cast, but if you tell someone you’re depressed, they all run the other way” (Breel). When someone’s parent is in the hospital battling cancer, teachers are understanding about late work, leaving class early, not being able to focus, etc. However, when a student’s parent is in the mental hospital, battling a fight against themselves, teachers will not tolerate any excuses to miss class, get extra time on work, or not being able to focus, despite both being ill, the cancer patient is viewed as stronger than the other as they are dealing with a physical illness, rather than an invisible disease. If these negative views towards psychotic diagnosis stay, how will America ever learn and grow to become better?

Works Cited

  1. Burgess, Dean. ‘Improving Mental Health Services for Teens and Young Adults.’ Young Minds Advocacy, 22 May 2017.
  2. Breel, Kevin. ‘Kevin Breel | Speaker | TED.’ TED: Ideas Worth Spreading.
  3. Denizet-Lewis, Benoit. ‘Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?’ Breaking News, World News & Multimedia – The New York Times, 11 Oct. 2017.
  4. ‘Megan Shinnick: The Truth About Teen Depression at TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet (Transcript).’ The Singju Post, 26 Jan. 2018,.
  5. Peterson, John, et al. ‘Nonsuicidal Self Injury in Adolescents.’ PubMed Central (PMC), Nov. 2008.
  6. Roleff, Tamara L, and Laura K. Egendorf. Mental Illness: Opposing Viewpoints. Greenhaven P, 2000.
  7. U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page.
  8. Weinstein, Susan. ‘The Downside of Mental Health Awareness.’ Care for Your Mind, 16 Oct. 2018.
  9. Williams, Penny. ‘Lack of Mental Healthcare for Children Reaches ‘Crisis’ Level.’ Healthline, 23 June 2015.
  10. Wingert P, Kantrowitz B, Braiker B, Springen K, Pierce E. Young and Depressed. (cover story). Newsweek. 2002;140(15):52.
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Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health: Urgency in Addressing Teen Mental Illness. (2023, Jun 15). Retrieved from