Teenagers are at a pivotal point in their lives. They are at that awkward stage between childhood and adulthood. They are desperate to grow up and leave their childish ways behind. Unfortunately, developmentally, they are not as grown up as they care to admit.
Being a teenager brings its own pressures; it is probably the most stressful part of anyone’s life. They want to fit in, they want to be popular, they want to be successful, they want to be attractive, and so on. They want to be ‘normal’ and accepted.
Mental illness does not fit with being ‘normal’. Mental illness makes the sufferer feel abnormal. This means they are more likely to bottle things up and hide their symptoms until they get to a point where it is impossible to do so anymore.
Mental illness being so widespread is a bit of a double-edged sword. Obviously, nobody wants teenagers (or any other age bracket) to be suffering with their mental health but, because of the coverage and information available, people know more about it. Therefore, other teens are more likely to be accommodating and want to help their friends whereas, before, they wouldn’t have known what to do, how to be there or what to say.
Don’t get me wrong; mental illness can be isolating for young people. They can push people away and friendships can be lost. People move on and the world keeps turning. However, from my experience, there seem to be more and more young people coming into our care who are able to maintain their previous relationships whilst striving to get better.
Concerningly, I believe that a lot of the stigma can come from adults. You get people, teachers included, who will say things like ‘they’re not anxious, they just don’t want to do it’ or ‘if ADHD was a thing when I was younger, the whole school would have been diagnosed with it’. It is easier, in some respects, to simply reprimand someone for behaving badly rather than trying to understand the underlying reasons for that behaviour.
My main point is this; if we want young people to get better and feel able to accept help, we need to continue to strive towards a society where there is no stigma attached to mental health issues. In my opinion it is young people themselves who are leading the way with this…adults need to follow their example.