Though mental health is finally starting to get some of the recognition it deserves, awareness and action are still not in step. This is according to a major survey of over 10,000 13-18 year olds, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). We know from prior research that about on in five teens are affected with a “severe mental disorder” of some kind. This means that at least that many would directly benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor to help them address their personal needs. Yet in the NIMH’s recent study, only 36% of the teens who needed help reported actually receiving any. Those who did had seen a therapist, counselor, or other professional fewer than six times during their entire lifetime.
The survey also parsed out which types of mental health needs were more likely to be treated, as well as which subsets of teens were most likely to receive therapy. On one end, teens with ADHD had a 60% treatment rate; on the other, eating disorders were treated just 13% of the time. Depression, bipolar, anxiety, and substance abuse were all in the middle. Non-Hispanic whites and females were more likely to receive counseling than were ethnic minorities and males.
The causes of this gap between awareness and treatment are comprehensive and highly-debated. One contributing factor is the fact that, despite parents’ good intentions, they still may not recognize what mental health needs look like in a teen or adolescent. For example, teen depression and adult depression often present differently, making it difficult for parents and teachers to distinguish normal teenage angst and rebellion from deeper troubles. Then there is the issue of funding. Many people’s private insurance policies don’t cover therapy and counseling, write Melissa Healy and Eryn Brown in an L.A. Times piece assessing factors that may have contributed to the recent shooting in Tucson, Arizona. “But with community mental services stretched taut by budget cuts and growing need, these are not the best of times” for those relying on publicly-funded services either. There’s no quick fix to the problem of untreated mental health concerns among young persons, but it’s a problem that needs to be addressed nonetheless.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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