For most children, navigating adolescence is mostly about whom to sit with at lunch, getting your homework turned in on time, and feeling constantly misunderstood. But for some, this time of immense maturity and growth can be side-tracked by the symptoms of a developing mental health problem. According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) “Half (50%) of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and 75% by age 24.” The good news is that with early identification and treatment, the young person can get back to the traditional worries of adolescence. The bad news is, many people do not recognize the symptoms of a mental health disorder and/or do not seek help right away.
Reasons people might not seek help right away:
Is there even a problem?
Our brains don’t reach full maturity until we are roughly 25 years old. Before that it’s busy learning the basics: how to walk, talk, and do long division. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between normal growing pains (moms and dads might even refer to this as an “attitude problem”) and the beginning symptoms of a mental health disorder.
Warning signs of a mental illness can come in all shapes and sizes, but here are a few to keep in mind: episodes of crying, hearing or seeing things that no one else hears or sees, loss of motivation or interest in hobbies and activities once found pleasurable, extreme anxiety, guilt, anger, changes in weight, sleeping excessively or being unable to sleep, and use of alcohol/other drugs. In some cases, a young person might even express thoughts of death and suicide. (If someone indicates they are contemplating suicide, get immediate emergency help.)
Why not just get help?
There are a number of obstacles that might discourage someone from receiving the help they need:
It’s not cool to have a mental health disorder. During a time in life when kids and teens are just trying to fit in with their peers, having a mental health disorder can feel embarrassing. Many teens fear being labeled as psycho, cray-cray, schizo, or mental if they admit they have a problem. Sometimes even a caring parent who suspects their child might have a mental health issue is reluctant to admit help is needed.
It’s probably going to be expensive. The worry of being able to pay for mental health services can be overwhelming and a roadblock to getting the services needed. In Fairfield County, the ADAMH Board partners with Information & Referral (211) to help county residents locate affordable mental health services.
What else can I do?
Learn the potential signs and symptoms of a youth experiencing a mental health crisis and acquire an action plan of how you may intervene to get the youth the help they need. The ADAMH Board periodically offers Youth Mental Health First Aid; a program that teaches people how to appropriately get youth the help they may need. Training dates are announced on our website and social media.
Thursday, May 5, 2016 is
National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.
This year’s theme is: “Finding Help. Finding Hope.”
Children’s Mental Health Matters!