New research has shown what many people have suggested for quite some time now – teens, young adults, and adolescents are struggling with mental health issues.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins department of mental health analyzed a study from 2005 to 2018 of more than 200,000 teens and found that approximately 20 percent had received mental health counseling. The rate of increase for teen girls rose by 11 percent in that time.
The sad part is all of this took place before the Covid pandemic began, and many fear the number of adolescents suffering from poor mental health has only gotten worse.
It’s interesting to note that the age of adolescence has increased from 10 to 19 years of age previously, to extend all the way to 24 years of age today. Teens are now starting puberty sooner than that of past generations and medical science shows that the brain continues to develop and mature for many until 24 or 25 years old.
Many young adults are having their own children later in life, and quite a few are living with their parents and remaining on their health insurance longer today too just to make ends meet.
Remaining at home for a longer period of time can help reduce some of the stress caused by the financial burden of living independently. It can also help keep mental health issues in check as well.
Teen and Adolescent Mental Health Statistics
There’s no shortage of data when it involves teen and adolescent mental health statistics. Even though separate sources may cite different numbers or years of study, everyone can agree that it is a growing problem that needs to be addressed.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness of California (NAMI) shows some facts and statistics about mental health including:
- 1 in 6 youth in the United States between the ages of 6 and 17 experience a mental health condition each year
- 50 percent of lifetime mental illnesses begin by the age 14, and 75 percent will begin by the age 24
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 34
- In 2016, it’s estimated that 7.7 million people between the ages of 6 and 17 years old had some sort of mental health issue
- High school students with significant depression are more than two times as likely to not finish their education when compared to those without depression
- Approximately only 50 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 received treatment for mental health conditions
- The delay between mental health onset and treatment is 11 years on average
- 19 percent of adults (9.2 million people) with a mental illness also experienced some kind of substance use disorder in 2018
The last statistic illustrates there is some parallel between mental health and addiction. This is because many people use alcohol or other substances as a coping mechanism for anxiety, depression, and other conditions.
Xanax bars are popular with teens, and while they may have a place as a medical necessity for anxiety symptoms, many are using them recreationally or as a dangerous escape.
Why Do Teens and Adolescents Struggle With Mental Health?
The World Health Organization (WHO) shows similar statistics as outlined above but they focus on different age groups, such as 10 to 19 years old or ages 15 to 19 in some of their numbers.
The WHO points to some of the reasons why teens and adolescents have mental health problems:
1. The adolescent years are ones of physical, mental, and emotional growth and some teens are not fully equipped to deal with many of these changes.
2. Things are happening quickly during these formidable years and there is pressure from peers to conform to ideas that some teens might not be comfortable with doing.
3. There is more pressure today to master new concepts in school and be proficient at an earlier age than we saw with previous generations.
4. Teens today must contend with social media, either good or bad, and feel an obligation to be “liked” by others.
5. They are judged by how well they compete with others in their own age group and how well they “stack up” with their peers.
6. It’s not enough to have a clear sense of belonging to a group of friends. Instead they must thrive, or the stigma of not fitting in can induce a sense of depression or anxiety.
7. The “always on” mode of being attached to a cell phone further complicates matters because it contributes to a lack of proper sleep that is so important for the developing brain.
8. Other issues like bullying, obesity, and body image are major causes of low self-esteem that also contribute to stress, anxiety, and depression for teens, and girls have a harder time with these than boys.
These are just a few reasons why teens and adolescents develop mental health issues today.
Kids today are under enormous pressure that previous generations never had to deal with while growing up.
Covid-19 Complications For Adolescent Mental Health
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic added a new twist that no generation has had to concede with in over 100 years.
Covid-19 caused school shutdowns, and everyone was required to homeschool. This resulted in a loss of basic support systems for many kids who relied on face-to-face educational help from teachers, and interpersonal socialization with their friends and peers.
Some students in low-income areas didn’t have computers or internet connections at home that were sufficient for keeping up with their schoolwork.
Many also lost access to school lunch and breakfast programs so they didn’t receive basic food requirements to aid in brain development and overall health.
Covid-19 has been a catastrophe for many teens and adolescents and we may not know the full impact for many years. The initial signs are pretty grim though.
We need to find a way to help students overcome these hardships and improve mental health outcomes. Luckily, there are some relatively simple things parents and teachers can do to promote staying mentally healthy for their children and students.
5 Mental Health Tips for Teens and Adolescents
There are many things teens and adolescents can do to improve their mental health, and most of them are free and don’t cost any extra money.
1. Healthy Eating
Stress and anxiety can cause many of us to binge on ice cream, candy, or other junk foods because they offer a feeling of comfort, but it is temporary. And most junk food is loaded with sugar that causes us to crave more of it.
Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats all help the brain function properly, boost energy, and keep weight down. It might be tough for some to get started, but making the switch to healthier foods can be addictive and they make the body feel better, which can inhibit stress.
2. Exercise Outside
Regular exercise 4 or 5 times a week for at least 20 minutes a day gets the blood pumping and increases feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain that make us happy. Exercising outside has the added benefit of breathing in fresh air and absorbing vitamin D from the sun that also helps us ward off anxiety and depression.
3. Proper Sleep
Getting enough sleep each night is important for all ages, but it’s especially important for the developing brain of teens and adolescents. Most people in this age group require 8 hours of restful sleep each night, even on the weekends. Uninterrupted, restful sleep can help keep weight in check or even improve weight loss if that is a goal.
Shutting down phones and computers at least one hour before bedtime can help everyone get to sleep faster and increase the number of hours of sleep a person gets each night.
4. Surround Yourself With Positive People
There’s no reason to hang out with toxic people if at all possible. They suck the life out of everyone and usually only focus on negativity. Spending time with positive people rubs off on everyone and fuels the mind with inspiring thoughts to better control emotions and behaviors.
5. Ask For Help
It the stress of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues arises, it’s okay to ask for help. In fact, it is recommended for everyone, regardless of age or circumstances.
As mentioned earlier, only half of all teens or adolescents with a mental health issue receive treatment for their condition. And 20 percent also struggle with a substance use disorder, further complicating the problem and requiring dual diagnosis treatment.
Trying to cope with anxiety or depression using drugs or alcohol might help for a very short time. In reality, the effects will only be temporary and might lead to a full-blown addiction.
The best advice is to tell a parent or teacher how you are feeling and ask for help. If they can’t provide any guidance, keep asking others until you find it.
At the same time, parents and teachers need to take a child or student’s plea for help seriously, listen intently, and provide a positive and supportive environment. Many teens and adolescents keep their feelings bottled up, so when they finally reach out, it is probably a serious matter.
There are plenty of ways to get help for mental health issues and the earlier a person begins, the better their chances of recovery and a successful outcome.
Schools today are better informed about the issues facing the mental health of teens and adolescents and society at large is also coming on board to help. But students need to ask for help if they plan to receive it.
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