Although the prevalence and burden of mental illness is the greatest in children and young people, adolescents and young adults are the least likely population group to seek help or to access professional care for mental health problems. Mental health issues do not just burden the person with the illness – their family and friends and society as a whole also suffer consequences. As such, society should enhance the wellbeing of young people (aged 12-25), and that starts by making mental health services more accessible to young people and by changing the stigmatisms around mental health issues.
Many mental health problems increase significantly in adolescence and young adulthood, and if left untreated, they lead to a wide array of other issues, including lower education and employment opportunities, as well as greater risk for antisocial behavior, comorbidity, drug and alcohol use, self-harm, and suicide. Despite knowing the risk factors and dangers of going untreated, the stigma attached to mental illness continues to serve as a barrier to seeking assistance.
Between 20 and 30 percent of young adults will have at least one major depressive episode before they reach adulthood, and 25 percent of individuals with mood disorders, like depression, begin suffering from symptoms during adolescence. A shocking 50 to 75 percent of people with anxiety disorders and impulse control disorders begin developing these illnesses during adolescence.
One in four young people will suffer from a mental illness, but many will not receive treatment until 15 years after the first early warning signs and symptoms develop. In fact, 70 percent of young people do not receive the care they need for mental health issues. While health insurance providers are now required to offer inpatient and outpatient services, many times, deductibles and copayments are not affordable, and for people on the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), nearly half of the programs place limits on inpatient and outpatient mental health services.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), federal and state governments could do a lot more to help young people have access to mental health services. Government programs could provide assistance through a multitude of channels, including free or low-cost counseling services, rehabilitation centers, or even service animals specially trained to support their mental health issues. Comprehensive school-based health centers throughout the state that also provide mental health services is essential. “Access to on-site, school-based mental health services in school-based health centers increases the likelihood that adolescents will receive mental health services,” states NCCP.
Governments should also pass legislation to enhance confidentiality protection for adolescents. Currently, only 20 states have laws that give minors explicit author to consent to outpatient mental health services. This creates a barrier when 55 percent of adolescents would not seek care for depression if parental notification was required.
Young adults use the internet every day. As such, the internet should be utilized as away of reaching out to them and providing sources of information for health issues, including mental health concerns. The internet could play a vital role in the support and care for young adults suffering from mental illnesses. Parents and teachers should be well-versed in recognizing mental health problems in children and young adults, including signs of suicidal thoughts. If parents lack knowledge of child’s mental health issues, it is even less likely that the child will seek help.
To prevent the escalation of mental health problems and to address ongoing risks, appropriate diagnosis and effective intervention must occur. If not properly diagnosed and treated, mental health issues can significantly impact the quality of a young person’s life and his or her future. As the New York Times notes, someone suffering from a mental illness should not feel that he or she should have to hide it. If the illness were diabetes, he or she would not be discouraged from speaking about it. Mental health issues are not mental weaknesses. They are disorders caused by a flaw of biology, not one of character, and they deserve the same attention and care that any other illness does.