Teenage Angst or Mental Illness
Having a mental illness is not just a phase
I first experienced mental health issues when I was a teenager. It's hard to tell exactly when it started because it gradually happened. It wasn't an overnight change. But I think teens have dark and destructive thoughts much earlier than their parents like to think. I first harmed myself at 13 and I felt in the moment that it had been a long time coming.
It's easy to write mental illness off as a hormonal change that can be grown out of. In my opinion, that's very destructive and can have long-lasting effects. Of course, some behaviour we take part in as teenagers is us just being teenagers. Hormonal changes are hard to handle. A lot happens in those few years. But hormonal change or mental illness there is an assumption that teens should just be left to work it out themselves. Telling a teen that it will all be figured out in a few years feels like an impossible target to reach. When you're that young, years feel a lot longer than they do even now when I’m in my 20s.
By not helping kids, you are subconsciously telling them that their problems don't matter and they can't come to you for help. That is devastating. It is very easy for teenagers to feel alone in the whirlwind of school friendship groups. Leaving kids to figure it out is just another rejection.
Let's take a moment to go over some stats so you know I'm not just talking out of my ass or my dark teenage experience.
A quick Google search brings up these statistics from the Mental Health Foundation.
20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year.
50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.
When researching into loneliness, Bupa says that '40 percent of 16 to 24-year-olds said they felt lonely often or very often.'
There is proof that teenagers do suffer with mental illness and loneliness. The two only make each other worse.
We can all agree that puberty is a time for learning in many ways. But how do we expect teens to know how to handle the dark thoughts and dangerous behaviours that mental illness throws at them? Leaving it to trial and error will only put kids in danger because when they fail at coping they could rely on addictions, self-harm or suicidal ideation to make it through.
You could say that if someone was suffering that badly they would reach out. It is incredibly hard for teenagers to ask for help when there are expectations that people their age shouldn't need their parents anymore. I was constantly told how a teenager should be. I asked my mum if we could leave a family gathering because I was tired (thanks to depression) and my uncle made a joke about how I was a teenager so I should be up all night partying. At the time parties horrified me. When I did reach out for help, no one wanted to believe there was anything actually wrong. I wasn't like 'that.' Whatever that meant. Asking for help feels like another opportunity for rejection at a time when you feel like you don't fit in at all.
What we learn as teenagers we bring with us to adult life. If we were taught to be ashamed and hide our problems, we'll continue to do so. If we found unhealthy coping mechanisms because we were never taught healthy ones, we will use them in later life when the damage can be even worse. If we were taught our issues will only be mocked not helped by others, we won't reach out for help when we need it most.
I'm not writing this to scare or shame anyone. I'm writing this to encourage everyone who knows teenagers to be aware. Be available to talk to them if they ask for it. Be non-judgemental. Be the one to ask them first. Share techniques for coping. Show teens that you aren't perfect either. They may reject you but it's better to check in with people than regret not doing anything to help. You have no idea the impact your words could make.
Whether dealing with a mental illness or struggling with being a teen in general, young people don't deserve to suffer unnecessarily just because everyone knows its hard growing up. We should want teenagers to have the best experience possible, not sadistically watch them suffer.
If you are concerned about a teen you know is suffering with a mental illness, there are loads of mental health charities to help you help them, such as Young Minds.