Brightly smiling teens, each representing a different cultural heritage and gender, link arms, so happy to be friends; so happy to be alive, in high school, in America. There are no issues here and the future is so bright they need sunglasses. None of them has an issue with a broken home, substance abuse in the family, STI/STD, are LGBTQ or are in foster care or homeless, exposed to gang violence, live in poverty, abuse drugs or alcohol, or suffer any mental, behavioral or physical health issues. (And their jeans are freshly washed and pressed; they brushed their teeth twice today and ate the requisite amount of fruits and vegetables, and got 8 hours of quality sleep! Their grades are stellar.) If this represents you or yours, be thankful. We cannot judge what is going on ‘inside’ by outward appearances.
By the numbers, there is a different story nationally, and in Ohio. You can explore Ohio statistics, by county, sliced and diced by SPMI (serious and persistent mental illness), SED (serious emotional disturbance) or any other of ‘designations’ or levels of mental illness or emotional disturbance. The CDC National Health Interview Survey, National Center for Health Statistics reports that of children 11-14, 16% suffer a mental disorder with minor difficulties, and 5.8% with definite or severe impairment; of children 15-17, 14.7% suffer a mental disorder with minor difficulties, and 6.3% with definite or severe difficulties.* Some 48.5% of children and adolescents aged 13-18 with emotional or behavioral problems also suffer a selected health condition. For instance, 23.8% suffer Asthma, 17% skin allergies, 13.3% severe headaches or migraines; 1.8% seizures.
Table 24 of the Behavioral Health survey shows lifetime and past year mental health and substance use disorders among adolescents aged 13-18 by sex in percentages. Among males, 10.5% suffer a mood disorder; 2.6% Bipolar I or II, 7.7% major depressive disorder. Among females, 18.3% suffer a mood disorder; 3.3% Bipolar I or II, 15.9% a major depressive disorder. Twenty six percent 26% of males (N=4,953) and 38% of females (N=5,170) suffer any anxiety disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder for example, includes 2.3% male sufferers, 8% female. Impulse disorders include ADHD, conduct, eating, intermittent explosive disorder and oppositional defiant disorder- 33% of males have a lifetime prevalence; 26.3% of females. As you examine substance use disorders, 7% of males abuse alcohol, 5.8% of females. Illicit drug abuse or dependence includes 9.8% of teen males and 8% of females. Often, these disorders are undiagnosed and untreated.
Finally, looking at the number of disorders, you find a little more than 20% with one disorder, more than 10% with 2 disorders and between 15 and 20% with three or more disorders. For example, a teen might self-medicate with a drink or two, and smoke a joint or take pills to cope with the depression of Bi-polar disorder. If you extrapolate to any youth group, classroom, suburb, or town, the numbers tell a story of real people. There are representatives in each corner, each category, each group. For the sweet grandma-like volunteer at an Ohio hospital who said innocently, ‘We don’t have teens with any mental disorders around here,’ this would be unwelcome news. (The ER had a different story). Too often, people reject what they don’t understand or want to acknowledge. That is why education and advocacy are so important, and eliminating the stigma against those who suffer.
More importantly, there are real flesh and blood teens behind the numbers with families (or not). A male teen describes how he thought everyone heard voices, until the voices became menacing. That’s when he then sought guidance from a friend. [http://www.rethink.org/living-with-mental-illness/young-people] There is help. There are many compassionate, understanding professionals who can make a difference. And, recovery is possible.
*Sources: National Health Interview Survey, 2011, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Table 27 p 76, Behavioral Health, United States, 2012. [N=45,989 total.]
Goodman, R (1999). The extended version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire as a guide to child psychiatric cases and consequent burden. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 40(5), 791-799.
Videos with personal stories
60 Minutes segment on Mentally Ill Youth in Crisis:
[photo credit: Bigstock, multi-ethnic teens # 616290]