Phrases that trivialise teen mental illness

1. Adolescent angst is a normal part of growing up.

There is no denying that adolescence is a complex and confusing time. It involves changing relationships with peers and family, identity confusion and juggling pressures from school and home. Yet what appears to be normal teen behaviour can often mask deeper problems.

Research indicates that half of all mental health conditions emerge by the age of 14, and 3 in 4 by age 24 (i). Despite the high prevalence, studies have shown that less than a quarter of young people (16-24) suffering from a diagnosable mental illness have had contact with professional services in the last 12 months (ii). Suggesting that despite suffering, most young people are reluctant to seek out help for themselves and therefore dismissing their issues as ‘normal’ teen behaviour could be preventing them from getting the support they need.

2. It’s just a phase

In fact depression is a progressive disorder and instead of getting better without treatment, it’s probably going to get worse. There’s also the risk of suicide and you can’t outgrow something that kills you.

Instead of doing nothing we should take steps to prevent things from becoming a bigger issue.

3. Your mood swings are hormonal

Puberty in teens and menstruation in females may very well cause mood swings but they’re still real and valid. It’s also possible for puberty to mask an underlying problem and  dismissing problems as ‘hormonal’ can invalidate the experience of teens and prevent teens from receiving help.

Some girls do become depressed or suicidal when on their periods. This could be because of hormones exacerbating an existant condition or it could be something could pre-menstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD) which is a serious and legitimate medical condition that can be treated and managed.

4. You have nothing to be depressed about

That’s why depression is classified as an ILLNESS. It doesn’t need to have an obvious cause, it just is. Some people are more vulnerable to becoming ill because of their genetics or upbringing and whilst this doesn’t mean they will become unwell it definitely increases the likelihood.

When you’re 15 the ‘worst day of your life’ will differ greatly to when you’re in your 40s but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still ‘the worst day of your life’. Being a teenager isn’t easy. You’re coming to terms with who you are, juggling stressors from school and home and are usually dependent on your parents. Teens can and do experience abuse, poverty and violence. And they do experience mental illness.

One thing that can separate normal teen behaviour  and emotion from an illness  is the duration and degree of difficulty it causes. A good guideline for depression, for example, is that a negative mood which persists for longer than 2 weeks could be a sign that something is off and needs to be checked out by a professional. This method isn’t foolproof though and if you think something is off, and even if you don’t, just ask.

For many young people who are suffering, the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness can be as difficult to deal with as the disease itself.

Sources

i Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR & Walters EE (2005).  Lifetime prevalence and age of onset distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey replication.  Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, p 593

ii Slade, T, Johnston, A, Teesson, M, Whiteford, H, Burgess, P, Pirkis, J, Saw, S. (2009) The mental health of Australians 2. Report on the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra.

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