Posted on January 29, 2014 in Teen Mental Health

Why May Teens Not Seek Help With Mental Health Issues?

Teens don’t like to stand out from their peers. Just take a picture of a group of teens to prove the point: they tend to wear the same type of clothes, sport the same hairstyles and even adopt the same posture in front of the camera. Teens have not fully come to grips with their own identity and until they do, they find safety in the group. This is a significant part of why teens may not seek help even when they feel mental health stress–but there is more to the story.
Studies show that girls and women are much more likely to seek help from a mental health professional than are men and boys. This is partly because help-seeking requires a certain level of confidence in their own ability to verbalize feelings. Men and boys, teenage boys especially, find it difficult to put emotions into words. Studies have shown that teenage boys and ethnic minorities are the least likely to seek help for mental health concerns.

In addition, the mental health condition itself may preclude them from asking for help.  Research shows that being depressed makes it less likely that a teen will look for someone to talk to about their situation, for example.  Additionally, if the teen has a pre-existing prejudice against mental health services or has had a poor prior counseling experience, he will be less apt to seek assistance.

The teen years are a life phase when the desire to be autonomous is strong. Teens crave independence, yet they still don’t know how to function independently.  Therefore, many teens assume that as independent beings they should be able to handle all of their personal issues on their own. This misunderstanding of what it means to be autonomous works against teens since this is a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable to mental health disturbances.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 50 percent of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75 percent of them have started by the age of 24. This already turbulent period is frequently punctuated by mental health challenges. More than one quarter of all 18 to 24-year olds develop some sort of mental health problem. The teen years represent a person’s greatest span of need and simultaneously when they are most unlikely to look for help.

There are things that can be done to help alleviate the roadblocks to teens, especially teen boys, asking for help. To begin with, knowing something in advance about mental health can make an adolescent more likely to seek help. In addition, much rests upon the viability of the patient/provider relationship. Finding someone that the teen finds capable, trustworthy and connected to is vital.

Finally, even though teens may be shifting away from family members as resources for help, the behaviors and attitudes modeled in the home can affect their willingness to ask for help. Parents who are able to admit their own struggles and are willing to ask for help show their teens that there is a way out.

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