Teenagers and Mental Illness

Twice in the past week, I found myself in the position of talking with groups of high school students. They were very curious about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. It sparked some great discussions on where to go for help if someone they know might need some assistance. They were much more receptive when I couched it in terms of getting help for friends instead of getting help for themselves. Hopefully they heard both.

I jokingly mentioned to them that one problem with teens for adults is that teens are weird. How do you tell the difference between a teenager who is moody, distant, distancing themselves from family and old friends, experimenting with new things, worried, anxious, or depressed? This got the laughter I hoped it would get. Then I pointed out that they may be in better positions to know what’s going on and that they may be able to have a larger impact than an adult. That got thinking going.

I then asked them who they would approach if they had a friend that needed some kind of help. Most admitted they might not contact anyone for various reasons. When prompted more, it turns out that just about everyone knew some adult they trusted to help: a trusted teacher, a councilor, the parent of a friend, their own parent, etc.

I once got on my soapbox when someone said, “It’s none of my business.” If it’s not your business, whose business is it? Your friend is hurting. If your friend hurting isn’t your business, who is it exactly who should help?

I find myself being drawn to this area because it seems to me, just based on common sense, that early intervention could make a huge difference in people’s lives. If you break a bone when you’re a teenager and you do nothing about it, you’re likely to be impacted for years and decades. Likewise, if you have a mental illness and you do nothing about it, what do you think is likely to occur? If instead, you learn ways of coping as a teenager that you carry with you in later life, how much better a life could you lead?

20 percent of teenagers in the US have some kind of mental illness.

Half of those teenagers with some kind of mental health condition drop out of high school. How does that impact those teenagers for the rest of their lives? How does that impact society? How does that impact the local economy? What does that cost the local, state, and federal taxpayer; and how does that compare to the cost of early intervention?

70% of those teens in the state and local juvenile justice system have a mental illness. Contact your local county sheriff or your county commissioner or your state legislator, and ask them what the cost is, per day, in your area to have a teen in the juvenile justice system. Make sure you’re sitting down when you get the answer. Don’t be surprised if the amount rivals the cost of sending that teen to an Ivy League university.

Then ask what the recidivism rate is for these teens. How many teens in the juvenile justice system become adults in the justice system? What does that cost?

Now contact your county health department and find out how much it costs to provide mental health services to troubled teens. Then find out how you can help see that we’re using our time and money to work on the underlying issues.

If an adult has some kind of mental illness, then there is a 50% chance that mental illness began by age 14. Early intervention is cheaper and has lifetime benefits. Whether your motivation is purely humanitarian, or whether your motivation is purely financial, or whether you’re like most people and your motivation is some combination of both, please contact people local to you who are addressing these issues and ask them how you can help. And then please help.

Your political party affiliation shouldn’t matter and where you are on the political spectrum shouldn’t matter. Early intervention is just common sense, and it’s something on which we should all be able to agree. We are so divided, and here is something on which I would hope we could all agree. We can spend less and improve people’s lives. Please do what you can to make a difference in this area.

2 thoughts on “Teenagers and Mental Illness

  1. I just read this Dan, I hadn’t seen posts on Facebook and got worried. So I followed this and found your home page, which I will read next.
    Your ​points here are excellent, I hope you have the chance to use them multiple times on your journey. I was lucky in my school experiences​, but I did try to stick up for people and stop bullying when I could. I’m impressed and envious of your commitment and physical ability! Aloha, Steve

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