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Get the Facts: Mental Illness in Teens and Young Adults

mental health treatment for teens

Mental illness is difficult to talk about, along with drug addiction. But as parents, we must always recognize this risk. We must educate ourselves about mental illness and substance addiction, and about the dangers these disorders can pose to children today. For those with children who are currently battling a mental illness and/or substance abuse, we must recognize that these are very treatable disorders – and we must spread awareness by educating others with the facts. In light of Mental Health Awareness Month 2019, Turnbridge outlines 5 mental health facts for parents and their teens.

  1. Fact: Mental illness is more common than we think.

Of the 74.5 million children in the United States, approximately 17.1 million have, or have had, a psychiatric disorder – anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are just some of the many examples. According to the Child Mind Institute, this is more than the number of children with cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also reports that 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness. 11 percent of children have a mood disorder, 10 percent have a behavioral or conduct disorder, and 8 percent of teens today have an anxiety disorder. And this just scratches this surface. All around us, youth are struggling with mental health disorders. If your child is also showing signs of mental illness, know that you are not alone.

  1. Fact: Mental illness and substance abuse often co-occur.

Mental illness and substance use disorders (SUDs) affect the same areas of the brain, and very often, they co-occur. According to national statistics, people with mood or anxiety disorders are twice as likely to suffer from substance addiction. The same goes vice versa: those addicted to drugs are twice as likely to suffer from mood or anxiety disorders. When drug and mental disorders affect the same person, it is called dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.

In 2014 – the latest data we have available – an estimated 340,000 adolescents in the United States (ages 12 to 17) had a Major Depressive Episode and a co-occurring substance use disorder. This represents close to 30 percent of the US adolescent population with drug and alcohol problems.

It’s clear that mental illness can lead a person into substance abuse. Drug abuse can also bring about symptoms of mental illness. Left untreated, the risk of developing either disorder increases significantly. That is why it is so important to get help early, especially for teenagers and young adults.

  1. Fact: Mental illness usually starts in adolescence and young adulthood. So does substance use.

Studies show that the first onset of mental health disorders usually occurs in childhood or adolescence. In fact, roughly half of all lifetime mental disorders start by the mid‐teen years, and three‐fourths by a person’s mid‐20s. Usually, however, treatment does not begin until years later – about 8 to 10 years, according to NAMI. And until that happens, many teens and young adults will establish their own means of self-medication.

Although drug abuse can happen at any time during a person’s life, it usually begins in adolescence, at about the same time the first signs of mental illness appear. Many teenagers experiment with drugs around this age, drinking and using drugs to fit in or become popular with peers. However, many teens and young adults also use substances to try and cope with underlying mental problems, such as depression, social anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and many more. This is called self-medication. The problem is, drug and alcohol use can actually exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness.

Adolescence is a very vulnerable time in our lives. Our brains are going through dynamic changes, learning, pruning, maturing. In fact, up until our mid-twenties, the parts of our brain dedicated to decision-making and impulse control are not yet fully developed. This increases our vulnerability to substance abuse and addiction, and other mental health disorders, during the teen years.

  1. Fact: Early Intervention for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders is Critical.

Because adolescence and early young adulthood are such critical windows for brain development, it is essential to treat SUDs and other mental health disorders as soon as the signs appear. It is never too early to seek professional treatment, and it is never too early to intervene.

During these vital years, teens and young adults need integrated treatment that is tailored to their unique needs. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, this integrated level of treatment – one that combines psychiatric strategies with addiction treatment therapies – can lower relapse rates, reduce the number of suicide attempts, and foster long-term abstinence for those in recovery.

For young adults specifically, those with co-morbid disorders also require coordinated care and support, to help them navigate potentially stressful life changes that come around this age (e.g. involving college education, career, and relationships).

  1. Fact: As a parent, you can help.

Teenagers and young adults are often resistant to change, hesitant to ask for help, and reluctant to admit when a problem exists. That is where the role of a parent, guardian, or educator can help. You have the power to make a difference.

If you believe your child has a mental health disorder, a substance use disorder, or both – do not hesitate to talk with your clinician or pediatrician. You may also reach out to the staff here at Turnbridge – an adolescent and young adult drug treatment center – for help.

Turnbridge has dual diagnosis programs designed specifically around the needs of youth. We can connect with your clinician, work with your child’s school, and help make dual diagnosis rehab as accessible as possible for your child. While your child is treated, Turnbridge can also connect you with our counselors and other families in similar shoes, to support you through the process. Call us at 877-581-1793 today.