The Grapevine

Teen Mental Health Issues Replace Substance Abuse As Top Parent Concern; Neither Get Attention They Need

Mental health issues
Mental health stigma and social media create a divide between parents and their struggling teens. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Parents are in denial about their teen’s mental health issues and chances of substance abuse, according to a new survey.

Yahoo Parenting and Silver Hill Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Connecticut, surveyed more than 3,100 parents about teen mental health issues and substance abuse, finding 65 percent of parents are more concerned now with their teen’s mental health. Yet, only 18 percent of teens had been formally diagnosed with anxiety, depression, or ADHD; fewer than that were taking medication for their respective disorder. While parents seemed to be more concerned with mental health issues, there was still disconnect between that worry and doing something about it.

“Everybody is in denial about depression and anxiety,” Dr. Aaron Krasner, the adolescent transitional living service chief at Silver Hill, told Yahoo. “So it makes sense to me that until the sh-- is really hitting the fan, parents and kids aren’t interested in talking about these problems. In some ways, parents don’t want to know and would rather do anything than acknowledge that their kid has a problem.” 

Mental health issues are prevalent among teens: The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) cited four million children and adolescents in the United States suffer from a serious mental disorder, with 21 percent of children ages 9 to 17 having a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder. NAMI added when these disorders are left untreated, teens use more health care services and face higher health care costs when they become adults. And for teens whose issues stem from bullying, they’re more likely to suffer from mental health problems later in life.

This isn’t to say parents should no longer focus on the chances of substance abuse. Despite 75 percent of parents believing their teen was above drugs and alcohol, the partnership for Drug-Free Kids reported 11 million American adolescents and young adults between the ages 12 and 29 need help with these types of problems. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 66 percent of high school students have had a drink, while 41 percent have smoked marijuana.

The survey found social media and the mental health stigma exacerbate this disconnect.

“Working in the trenches with teens with mental health and substance use disorders, I am alarmed to see the clear survey results confirming the widening digital and social media divide between parents and their teens,” Krasner said.

He added parents need to start thinking of mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, as the psychiatric illnesses they are, not “character flaws.” Mental disorders are neurological problems, and there are treatments available for teens to reduce their symptoms.

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