Teens with mental illness afraid to speak up

Natalia Gevara, Staff Writer

More than half of teens with psychiatric disorders do not receive treatment for their disorder. – JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY SERVICES

 A mental illness, by definition, is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. Just like illnesses such as lupus and diabetes, they’re medical issues that have a huge impact on a person’s life and should never be left untreated — especially for teens.

However, according to a study by the “Journal of Psychiatry Services,” more than half of teens with psychiatric disorders do not receive treatment for their disorder. Only 45 percent of teens with a mental illness received some form of service.

Teens with ADHD, conduct disorder and oppositional defiance disorder are the most likely to receive service for their conditions, with over 70 percent of patients receiving treatment.

However, the same study reports that only 40 percent of teens with phobias and anxiety disorders are likely to receive treatment — the lowest treatment rate of all mental illnesses.

Each illness has a way of negatively impacting a teen’s life. Depression can drain teens of their energy and cause ongoing feelings of emptiness, ADHD can cause difficulties in learning and concentrating, and anorexia nervosa slowly destroys a teen’s body and mind.

The question remains: why do so many mental illnesses go untreated?

“It’s still the case in this country that people don’t take psychiatric conditions as seriously as they should,” said E. Jane Costello, a Duke University professor of psychology and epidemiology and associate director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy in an article in “HealthDay News.”

For people without psychiatric disorders, the term “mentally ill” often brings to mind pictures of people who are crazy, psychotic, and abnormal. It’s these ideas that often cause teens to be afraid to talk about their illness.

“I would say that there are kids that are afraid to talk about it because they’re afraid of the stigma that comes with it,” BCHS school psychiatrist Jennifer Shirron said.

“When you don’t fit into society’s mold, you’re put to the side,” junior Kehaulani Prodigalidad said. “People don’t accept you.”

Suffering from an illness is like being at war with your mind at all hours of the day.  Without any professional help, there’s no way of escaping it. However, the notion that having a mental illness makes you crazy is one that causes people who suffer from these illnesses to feel alienated and keeps them from seeking help.

For students with psychiatric disorders, there is a fear of being misunderstood and isolated by peers due to their illness. However, students can also end up fearing judgment by their close friends and family as well.

“If the students come from families where it’s more accepted, then they’re often less afraid and more willing to talk,” Shirron said.

Teens with mental illnesses may also come from families who simply cannot afford to pay for their psychiatric services.  According to a study by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 50 percent of Americans with mental health issues cannot afford treatment for their illness.

Students also might have difficulties accepting the fact that they have a mental illness. They may feel the need to act like everything’s okay, in hopes  that other people won’t know  they’re actually suffering.

“I think kids would be afraid because you don’t really want others to know that you’re struggling mentally,” sophomore Vanessa Mendoza said.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24, with mental illnesses being the leading risk factor. More than 90 percent of people who die of suicide suffered from a mental disorder.

Students with mental illnesses often feel like their disorder is something they can easily get over without any help. However, what they suffer from are actual illnesses that have to do with their brain chemistry, and they’ll only get better with treatment.

Going through a mental illness without treatment is scary, unpredictable, and often leaves people feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. By changing society’s views about mental illness, it is hoped that more and more people will be willing to seek the help that they deserve.