There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding mental illness. This is particularly true when the mental health conditions affect children and teenagers. Take a look through this list of nine common misconceptions about adolescent mental illness and see if you believed any of the fallacies. Even better, make it a point to point others in the right direction if you know people who believe these misconceptions; that is a great way to begin to defeat the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Myth #1. Teenagers Don’t Have Anything to Be Depressed About
If you think about what teenagers are up to, you might assume they have nothing to be depressed about. After all, most teens are active in school, have friends, work part-time jobs, play on sports teams and might be dating. All of this activity can actually lead to depression and anxiety in some teens. Besides that, however, depression does not need to be caused by life circumstances; in many cases, it’s a hormonal issue or caused by the brain. Some research shows that a reliance on smartphones, tablets, and other devices might be partially responsible for rising depression incidence. A particular teen might not seem to have anything in his or her life that is causing depression, but that doesn’t mean the depression doesn’t exist.
Myth #2. Adolescents With Mental Illness Are Violent
Another myth that many people believe about adolescent mental illness is those those with a mental health disorder are violent. While it is possible that someone who commits an act of violence is mentally ill, that does not mean that most people who are suffering from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, autism, or other mental health conditions are any more violent than anyone else. More common causes of violence include:
- substance abuse
Untreated psychosis, which is a type of mental illness, is also to blame in some cases.
Myth #3. Parents Are the Cause of Adolescent Mental Illness
Early traumatic experiences can be the trigger behind some types of mental health conditions in teens. With that being said, most cases of mental health issues do not stem from poor parenting. A lot of the time, there’s a genetic predisposition to a mental illness. There are also environmental causes that don’t have anything to do with the parents. For example, a teen who is assaulted at school or who is in a serious car accident and develops post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety did not develop it due to parenting issues.
Myth #4. Teens With Mental Illness Are Acting That Way for Attention
Mental health conditions stem from the brain, and they are no different from physical health conditions. While it’s possible that someone might fake having depression, a heart problem, or a sprained ankle, most people do not pretend to have physical or mental illnesses. Also, a mental health problem does not generally attract the type of attention that people want; there are so many misconceptions and stigmas surrounding mental health that it wouldn’t make sense for someone who was healthy to pretend to have a mental illness. While it might happen on occasion, this is not typical.
Myth #5. It’s Not Depression; It’s Just Teenage Moodiness
Teenagers are often moody. Their moods can fluctuate due to hormonal changes and the stress that goes along with transitioning from childhood to adulthood. That doesn’t mean that some teens don’t have depression, however. If a teenager is sad, overwhelmed, or feeling guilty for more than two weeks, it’s likely depression and not just mood swings. Additional signs that there’s more going on than simple adolescent mood swings include:
- trouble eating
- sleeping problems
Myth #6. Mental Health Issues Aren’t Diagnosed in Teens
There are some mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, that are not often diagnosed in children because their symptoms often (but not always) start in later adolescence or young adulthood. However, most mental illnesses can and do affect teens. These are diagnosed by pediatricians, pediatric psychiatrists, and other specialists. Screening has become better over the last several decades and even in the past several years, so some teens with mental health issues are being diagnosed sooner than they would have been decades ago.
Myth #7. Teens With Mental Health Issues Need to Be Medicated
With many types of mental health conditions, a combination of lifestyle changes and therapy can go a long way toward managing the symptoms. For example, a teen with mild to moderate depression might find relief from the following:
- an exercise program
- getting enough sleep
- a healthy diet
- yoga or meditation
- weekly therapy sessions
Not all teens who have mental health conditions need medication; since the risks of medication can be higher in teens than in adults, they are used with caution.
Myth #8. Medication for Teens With Mental Health Issues Is Unnecessary
Although lifestyle changes and therapy can help many adolescents with some mental health conditions, others do need medication. The decision to medicate a teen with mental illness needs to be made in conjunction with the physician, the family, and the patient. The risks and benefits are weighed and the medication dosage and type are carefully monitored. If someone you know is on medication for an adolescent mental illness, rest assured that they got to that point after careful consideration and consultation with a mental health professional.
Myth #9. Nobody I Know Has Mental Illness
You might think that no one you know has a mental illness, but chances are very good that you actually do.
Approximately 20 percent of the population is dealing with a mental health condition at any given time.
Since many mental health conditions aren’t necessarily lifelong, the number of people affected fluctuates. If you know 100 people, it’s likely that at least 20 have had, currently have, or will have some type of mental health disorder. Just in your circle of 10 closest friends and family member, at least two will have struggled with a mental illness at some point in their lives.
Being aware of the myths and misconceptions that surround mental health conditions is an important part of reducing the stigma that accompanies adolescent mental illness. Talk to the people around you about these facts and continue to educate yourself about various conditions that affect those who are closest to you. Also, if you are impacted by a mental health condition, don’t be afraid to speak out. The more people speak openly about these conditions, the less mystery there will be and the fewer misconceptions will be out there.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.