According to the Office of Adolescent Health within the Department of Health and Human Services, one out of every five teenagers suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder. However, far too often, mental health is ignored in teenagers. Whether irritability and sadness is written off as just “being a teen,” or whether the underlying stigma regarding mental illness is playing a role in the lack of mental care, the ignorance is extremely dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gather data on the alarming suicide rates among America’s teenagers and found that suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 12-18. Even more staggering of a statistic is that four out of five teens who attempt suicide give clear warning signs that their mental stability is failing. Many parents and loved ones believe that their child will grow out of whatever they may be going through, and this thought process is actually what makes many of these illnesses worse. Most of the time, parents do not ignore their child’s mental illness due to a blatant lack of caring, but rather because of the stigmatization and lack of conversations regarding mental health as a whole. People are afraid to talk about mental illnesses. For some reason, our society has made it into some sort of “dirty” or “improper” topic of conversation. Everyone has a brain, which means everyone has mental health to think about.
I am one of the lucky teenagers who has parents who understand how important mental health is, especially within the rapidly changing teenage brain. For a long time, I did not know the anxiety I was feeling was not normal. In my first year of high school, I expected to be stressed out and worried. But, when my anxiety became so debilitating that I found myself unable to complete seemingly minute tasks, something needed to change. I have what is known as “Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” described by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America as being “characterized by persistent, excessive and unrealistic worry about everyday things.” This disorder can make the most normal of situations seem terrifying, and make easy days seem daunting. Therapy and medication increased my control of my anxiety, and while I still feel it almost every day, I now have more tools on how to work through it.
Having my own personal experience with a mental health disorder makes it even harder for me to see so many other people my age dealing with them without any help. When I describe my anxiety to some people, they just tell me to stop worrying, or to try to think about something else, or that it is all in my head. Yes, it is all in my head, but I can not stop thinking about it, and trust me I would love to stop worrying, but I also cannot do that. Too many people would rather just call someone crazy than actually listen and take the time to learn about mental illnesses. We have a responsibility to teach future generations to end the stigma regarding mental health and mental illness. We have a responsibility to open conversations that have been locked away for so long. Ending this stigma has the power to save lives.