Written by Claire Imber,
6 Minute Read
Medically reviewed by:
Erin O'Callaghan, PHD
Director of Therapy
10 Minute Read
This Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ve been thinking a lot about mental health in youth. In the United States, the state of mental health in children and young adults has reached a level that some researchers believe to be a crisis.
Harvard’s Claire McCarthy, MD writes:
In the fall of 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association, declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.
They called for increased funding for mental health resources, as well as other actions, including more integration of mental health care into schools and primary care, more community-based systems to connect people to mental health programs, strategies to increase the number of mental health providers, and ensuring that there is insurance coverage of mental health care.
Because mental health among youth is such an urgent topic, we would like to look at why mental health awareness is so important for young people.
What does mental health awareness mean?
Before we go too much further, let’s define “mental health awareness.” To us, mental health awareness involves fostering an understanding of:
- What it means to have good mental health
- The stigmas that exist about mental illness
- How many people experience mental health challenges
- The potential dangers of not treating mental health conditions
- The barriers to treatment that many individuals face
Every May, we join other mental healthcare organizations and providers to renew our commitment to promote awareness. And, as we have explained in our blog, to advocate for those who need us and to provide support to all who live with mental health conditions.
Why is mental health awareness in youth so important?
Simply put, there is not enough attention being paid to mental health in children and adolescents. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness in 2020:
- Statistically, only “50.6% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 with a mental health disorder received treatment.”
- Among adolescents (12–17 years), “1 in 6 experienced a major depressive episode (MDE).”
- “3 million had serious thoughts of suicide.”
Statistically speaking, as a society, we are not talking enough about mental health in youth; we are not listening enough when there’s a problem, and we are not helping enough youth get the treatment they need.
One of the best ways that we can begin to address these deficiencies is to promote awareness. Here are a few ways you can do this today.
Talk to youth about mental illness
If you were ever a child, you may recall that often the most frightening thing was the unknown. It can be terrifying when you feel bad but don’t understand why. Mental illness, and mental health in general, needs to be discussed in order to make it less scary for those who experience it.
The National Institute of Mental Health says that “An estimated 31.9% of adolescents had an anxiety disorder.” That’s roughly a third of the population. If these children simply understood that others experience anxiety as well, they may understand that they are not the only ones experiencing anxiety. If the other two-thirds of children also knew that their friends sometimes experience anxiety, then they are better suited to offer help.
Help them identify the signs of a problem
Talking more about mental health will also teach children, teens, and young adults the warning signs that often occur when someone may be on the verge of experiencing a crisis. Learning about these warning signs gives youth the chance to recognize these signs and take action if a friend exhibits them or if they themselves start to display them.
Of course, reviewing warning signs and symptoms will also help parents, teachers, and others.
There is ample evidence that suicide prevention often starts with someone paying attention. Claire McCarthy, MD says, “So pay attention, and take what you see seriously. If your child is showing signs of anxiety or depression, call your doctor. Don’t put it off.”
Help young people understand and overcome stigmas about mental health
It is common for youth (and adults) to be embarrassed by mental health challenges. Much of this embarrassment is caused by the stigma that mental health is somehow less important than physical health. Findings published in the academic journal BMC Psychiatry show that:
- “Young people, including adolescents and young adults aged 10–24 years, are at a critical period in the prevention and treatment of mental health disorders.”
- “Public stigma universally prevents people who experience mental health problems (i.e. symptoms that are not sufficient to warrant a diagnosis of a mental disorder) and those with mental disorders from seeking counseling and treatment.”
- “Educational interventions to reduce the stigma associated with mental health may improve help-seeking behaviors by avoiding the use of psychiatric labels that are not commonly understood…”
In other words, reducing stigma and normalizing mental health challenges increases the willingness to seek treatment in the future.
Help young people get the treatment they need
Perhaps the best way to promote youth mental health awareness is to help kids in need access mental health services. Children’s mental health, according to Youth.Gov, can change over time.
With the developmental changes and challenges that youth face normally, especially in adolescence, many experience transitional phases of mood and behavioral changes. Youth and their families can successfully navigate the challenges that come from experiencing a mental health disorder. Those with more persistent mental health challenges usually do very well with treatment, peer and professional support and services, and a family and social support network.
You can help Brightside Health promote awareness of youth mental health this month and every month. If you are experiencing mental health concerns, we want to help. Brightside Health treats people ages 18 and over and you get started with a free assessment. You can also:
- Text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor.
- Call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255.
- Visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website for additional resources.
You can use the lifeline services mentioned above for yourself, or talk to someone for advice if you are concerned for a loved one. You are not alone.