Mental health is not a complete mystery in our modern culture. The issue has gradually come out of the shadows and into the mainstream because of increased education and awareness but also from social media, entertainment and a younger generation which demonstrates a more open willingness to talk about this important issue. Most have friends who are struggling with a mental illness or at least know someone who has someone in their family or circle of friends with these challenges. Many are dealing with these issues themselves.
The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) is the largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated solely to building better lives for those Americans affected by mental illness. The organization publishes updated data each year concerning mental health statistics and the numbers for our young people don’t look good:
FACT: One in 5 children aged 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness.
FACT: Suicide is the third leading cause of death for those aged 10-24. 90 percent of those who commit suicide in this age group have some underlying mental illness.
FACT: 37 percent of of students with some mental health condition by age 14 eventually drop out of school altogether. This is the highest dropout rate of any disability group in our country.
FACT: The average time between the onset of mental health condition symptoms and treatment is eight to 10 years. The reasons for this delay are numerous and often has devastating effects both short- and long term.
FACT: 70 percent of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems suffer from some form of mental health condition.
These are sobering statistics, numbers that reveal the magnitude of the mental health challenges our young people face. Looking at this data can be overwhelming and certainly cause any of us to want to turn away and pretend it will just get better or go away. Of course, we know this won’t happen. Much work is needed to help reverse these trends and much of this can be done by any of us, here at home. Addressing mental health issues starts with simply being aware of how our young people are doing. Here are some symptoms to look for when trying to determine if someone needs help:
- Do they seem sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks?
- Are they (or have they in the past) tried to harm themselves or make plans to do so?
- Are they showing high-risk behavior that could harm themselves or others?
- Do they show sudden overwhelming fear for no reason? Often this is accompanied by a racing heart beat or physical discomfort.
- Sudden weight loss or gain?
- Sudden change in eating habits?
- Severe mood swings?
- Repeated use of drugs or alcohol?
- Sudden change in sleeping patterns?
- Difficulty concentrating?
- Intense worries or fears that interfere with normal, daily activities?
You do not have to be a mental health professional to observe and understand these symptoms. If you see anyone exhibiting one or more of these behaviors, there is a significant chance they are suffering from some mental health condition and need help. Try talking to them. Ask if they’re OK. Don’t ignore these signs. If you don’t feel comfortable or able to initiate a conversation with them, find someone who can. Schools have staff members skilled in addressing these problems in young people and do it every day. Counselors, teachers and administrators are great places to start in trying to help a young person dealing with mental health issues. Don’t wait. See the signs. Tell someone. Our young people need help and it starts at home.