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The Hidden Crisis: Why Teen Mental Health is Spiraling Out of Control

Teen Mental Health - A Hidden Crisis, a teenager standing at the entrance of a cave, arms wide open, facing a lush forest and clear sky.

Updated on April 29, 2024

The Alarming Mental Health Crisis: Staggering Rise in Depression and Anxiety

The alarming rise in teen mental health issues is a growing concern that demands our immediate attention. Disturbingly, studies show a staggering increase in the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and even suicide among young people in recent years.

    The statistics are genuinely harrowing – teen suicide rates have skyrocketed, with mental health challenges becoming increasingly common among our youth. 

    Immense social and academic pressures compound this crisis, often overwhelming today’s teenagers and leaving them feeling helpless. As parents, we must act now to help our youth get comprehensive and essential mental health care and provide our teens with the resources they desperately need. 

    Complacency is no longer an option. The mental well-being of our teens hangs in the balance, and being proactive makes all the difference. Often, without intending to, parents can overlook early warning signs of distress. We are naturally optimistic about our children and may dismiss fluctuations in their behavior as typical teenage struggles. 

    When behaviors seem erratic or atypical, we cling to the hope that it is merely being a teen. Other times, we miss the signs because our children are very good at hiding their emotions, or they might hide their feelings to avoid worrying us. Consequently, we find ourselves living with a teenager who behaves very differently when we are out of sight. 

    In 2021, there was a 51% increase in emergency room visits by adolescents for suicide attempts. Even more frightening, in 2022, the number of ER visits for suspected suicide rose by 22.3% compared to the same period the previous year.

    Teen ER Visit Statistics for Attempted Suicide - Bar Chart

    Why Do Teenagers Hide Their Mental Struggles?

    Teenagers hide their mental health struggles from their parents and others because they fear judgment, do not want to appear weak, or do not have the language to express their emotions. 

    The Fear of Being Labeled as Unstable

    Some youths fear the stigma that can come with openly acknowledging their mental health challenges or emotional turmoil. We have a societal expectation for teenagers to appear strong, resilient, and in control, leaving little room for vulnerability. Tragically, this makes many teens mask their true feelings, unwilling to risk being perceived as weak or incapable. 

    The Inability to Express What They Feel

    Furthermore, some adolescents do not have the emotional awareness and the language to articulate the complex emotions they are experiencing. Without the proper tools and support to identify and express their inner turmoil, they grapple with their problems in isolation. 

    This silence can have devastating consequences, as untreated issues often escalate and lead to more serious mental health concerns down the line. 

    How Can Parents Empower Their Teens To Discuss Their Concerns? 

    Addressing the root causes of this “hidden” struggle – is imperative. Parents need to make their teenagers feel comfortable to share their fears and teach them the necessary skills to identify what they are feeling and learn how to express it. Similarly, parents need to know not to dismiss what they hear as “complaining” or “whining” and instead ask more questions without making their child feel defensive. 

    Open dialogue and trust between the parent and teen are crucial in empowering teens to seek help, access resources, and ultimately overcome their mental health challenges.

     

    HEED THE WARNING -

    What Signs Should Parents Look For?

    When it comes to children’s well-being, parents must be vigilant and attuned to any potential warning signs. They should also be mindful of certain behaviors and changes as children navigate the complexities of growing up.

        • Sudden shifts in mood

        • Withdrawal from social activities

        • Sudden decline in academic performance

        • changes in sleeping patterns, appetite, or personal hygiene 

      If you notice these changes in behavior in your teen, investigate further. It is crucial for parents to approach these situations with empathy and create a safe space for their children to express their thoughts and feelings. 

      The best way to intervene is by staying observant and responsive. After you discuss what’s happening with your teenager, get professionals involved. A counselor or coach can help the teen develop skills to care for themselves and provide you with invaluable insights and resources to address the underlying issues. 

      The Unique Pressures Teen Face Today

      Social Media Cause Anxiety and Stress

      Another growing concern is the profound effect and unique pressures social media has on teen mental health, especially girls. Unlike previous generations, our daughters are exposed to unrealistic expectations that damage their self-esteem and add pressure to “look and be better, get more Likes, ♥️ and comments. There’s a lot of unspoken anxiety as they wait to see how their posts are received by not just their friends but also their peers in school. 

      How Academic Pressure Fuels Teen Stress

      Academic stress is at an all-time high, with teenagers feeling immense pressure to excel and meet societal expectations. Teachers’ and parents’ expectations, homework, exams and all of the extracurricular activities create stress and anxiety. Getting a poor grade or failing a test creates feelings of inadequacy. 

      We’ve instilled in children the importance of college in achieving life success, so when they do poorly or if they have trouble in certain subjects, they see themselves as possibly failing in life; this hopelessness often becomes the perfect ingredient for depression and self-harm. 

      The Dangerous Mix: Peer Pressure, Bullying and Hormones 

      Peer pressures, comparing themselves to others and striving to be accepted, the best, or the top, combined with balancing all of their responsibilities—academic, social, family, sports or clubs—can be overwhelming. It is a perfect storm of challenges! 

      Now let’s add to it the prevalence of bullying, body image issues, and hormones, and you have a ticking time bomb that can lead to the development of severe mental health conditions.

      As mentioned earlier, these teenagers don’t have the emotional maturity or vocabulary to express their feelings. They need to be able to rely on their parents to provide the support and resources they need today to help them navigate these turbulent times.

      The Mental Health Teen Crisis: Why Teens Can’t Get Help

      It’s heartbreaking to see the alarming rise in mental health issues among our teens while there is such a shortage and need for mental health professionals. I read the other day that we need three times as many psychiatrists to treat the current youth population. There is also a shortage of therapists, especially in non-metro areas.[5] 

      A friend of mine, an RN in an emergency room, told me about a heartbreaking case. A 15- 15-year-old girl was brought in by her parents. They’d been unable to find in-treatment placement despite therapy clearly not being enough. This was her second suicide attempt in less than six months. After a brief stay, she was released back to her parents with a referral to a psychiatrist. 

      My friend said the saddest part was the fear that the girl might succeed next time. Even after just a few minutes with her, it was clear she was determined to try again. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist we referred her to has a long waiting list for new patients.

      Across the country, access to mental treatment is limited and expensive, with long wait lists, and I hate to say it, but it is often inadequate. This generation is being affected and left to suffer in silence and frequently alone. 

      Act Now: Preventing the Consequences of Neglecting Teen Mental Health Issues

      Sadly, we don’t realize the extent of our teenagers’ struggles until they are at a crisis point. Getting them the right help early is crucial for their mental health and future. With the proper mental health treatment and support, teens can develop the skills to overcome their behavioral and emotional struggles and thrive.  

      Without help, your teenager can go from: 

          • Failing grades to school refusal and isolation.

          • Drug misuse to substance abuse.

          • Anxiety and depression to self-harm.

        The cascading effects of unaddressed mental health issues in adolescence are both heartbreaking and far-reaching. The time to act is before more lives are needlessly lost or irreparably damaged. This generation deserves our compassion and the resources to find healing. 

        Hailey’s Success Story

        Hailey’s path to overcoming her mental health challenges is a testament to resilience and the power of targeted support. Initially overwhelmed by severe issues that disrupted her family life and personal development, Hailey’s parents were desperate for a solution. After several setbacks in finding the proper care, they found a residential therapeutic program that finally seemed promising. The decision to enroll her was difficult, but ultimately, Hailey’s transformation began there.

        Her parents, Kevin and Brenda, expressed deep gratitude for the therapeutic boarding school’s role in restoring their daughter. They described the journey as the best decision they ever made, highlighting how it brought their family back together and set Hailey on a path to a promising future.

        Hailey’s story is a shining example of how recovery is possible and transformative. It emphasizes the importance of finding and sticking with the proper support, even when the road seems incredibly tough.

         

        What Parents Can Do to Support Teen Mental Health

        While the teen years can be a challenging time for mental health, there are steps you can take to support your child.

        1. Be attuned to any changes in behavior or mood.
        2. Do not hesitate to seek professional help if you notice something is wrong.
        3. Be vigilant for signs of depression or anxiety.
        4. Validate their feelings, let them know you’re there to listen and work together to find solutions. 
        5. Seeking counseling or therapy at the first signs of trouble can make a big difference. 
        6. Encourage teens to practice self-care through healthy sleep, nutrition, and stress management habits. 
        7. Above all, be proactive!

        Conclusion: Helping Your Teen Now to Improve Their Future!

        It’s not easy to parent a child who struggles with mental health. In fact, it is overwhelming and scary. The stakes are high, but the consequences of inaction are even higher. To safeguard your child’s future, go beyond your local mental health team and look at national options like private residential treatment or therapeutic boarding schools. 

        Many have open beds and services covered by insurance. To avoid a crisis, investigate your options and find placement for them now. Residential treatment will help them gain new skills to deal with the root issues causing the visible symptoms. 

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