Treating Teen Depression: Early Intervention is Key

Often, the sooner someone speaks up about something that is bothering him or her, the better. Thoughts don’t have time to brew, become distorted, and get out of control. The same is true for fighting the power that a mental illness can have over the mind. The sooner the mental illness is diagnosed and treated, the better. Mental illness begins in the early years for some, and if teens suffer quietly through the mental illness without treatment, they are at risk for developing other mental illnesses as they get older. Each mental illness has its own nature and needs to be individually treated—as soon as possible.

Knowing the Numbers

In 2012, the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A) revealed that in one year, 40 percent of American teens had experienced a mental disorder. The study reported that most teens suffered from anxiety disorders. The second most common disorders were behavior disorders, followed by mood and substance disorders. Eight percent of those teens had experienced a serious emotional disturbance (SED). Dr. Ronald Kessler, McNeil Family Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, found that 63.5 percent of the teens who had an SED also had at least three additional disorders. It is important to note that mental illnesses cannot be lumped together. Each illness has its own distinct symptoms and treatment. Kessler’s research helps communities determine which populations of teens may be most at risk for mental illness and how widespread mental illness is in teens. The study also may offer ideas on the best ways to find help for those who are battling mental illness—especially those who have not let others know or who do not realize they have a mental illness.

The Need for Outreach Programs

Identifying whether someone has a physical illness is often easier than identifying a mental illness. Some teens hide their emotional problems, possibly because they are unsure of what is happening to them or are too embarrassed to admit they have a problem. Sometimes adults believe depressed, anxious, or angry moods are normal teen behavior. Kessler believes that outreach programs can help identify these mental illnesses and help these teens get help early on. It is also important for policymakers to be aware of these statistics and trends in mental health disorders in youth. Policymakers can implement more outreach programs and health care policies, and can help patients can get proper insurance for their claims.

Early Intervention

Recent news stories of shootings in schools and other public places have raised the question of what untreated mental illness can do to a person’s life, their community, and their country. Mental illness has been linked to problems such as violence, teen pregnancy and crime. Kessler’s study wants communities and policymakers to take a look at how intervening in the lives of youth can help save them from a life of mental illness. The bottom line: the earlier the intervention, the better.

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