Many people in our society appear to feel mental health issues only apply to drug addicts or “street people.” In India they refer to these people as the “untouchables.” In India and here in the United States, we don’t pay a great deal of attention to theses people except for being annoyed how they make our cities look dirty and many people are afraid to walk pass them because they may be attacked or they are afraid of catching some disease from these “street people.” However this is not reality. Mental health impacts adults, children, teenagers and it impacts people who are poor and rich. Also every ethnicity and sexual orientation has mental health issues. The bottom line is mental health impacts all of us. We all have mental health issues just like we all have physical health issues.
By ignoring mental health issues, we are doing a great deal of harm to children and teenagers. By conservative results, one out of every five teenagers has a mental health issue which requires treatment. Since the year 2000, every year the number of teenagers diagnosed with depression and anxiety have increased. Additionally, drug abuse has been increasing as teenagers try to self-medicate. Finally, the suicide rate has increased every year. It use to be the third leading cause of death for teenagers. Now it is the second leading cause of death for teenagers and it is close to becoming the number one leading cause of death for kids 10 years old to 18 years old.
The issue has become so serious that Time magazine and Kaiser Permanente joined together and produced a video discussing the epidemic of mental health issues children are experiencing and the lack of treatment due to our attitudes. Here is a link to the video https://about.kaiserpermanente.org/total-health/health-. Please watch this video so you understand what we are discussing.
As a psychotherapist who treats children and teenagers, I can confirm what this video is showing. Since the year 2000, I have seen an explosion of children and teenagers needing psychotherapy for anxiety, depression, self-mutilating (cutting themselves) and suicide. I have added extra hours but I still cannot meet the demand to see everyone calling my office. This is a major tragedy. Since people are so ashamed of mental health if they call and cannot get an appointment, they will probably give up on therapy. Why do I say this? I say this because the children and teenagers who come in for therapy are embarrassed and ashamed. They tell me there is something wrong with them and they fear they never will get better. Why do they feel this way? They feel this way because they hear how people talk about people with mental health issues and the stereotype that it only happens to “street people.”
We must remove this mental health stigma. This stigma is resulting in the deaths of many children, teenagers and adults. The majority of people who have mental health issues can live happy, productive lives with appropriate treatment. In fact, one of the leading researchers on Bipolar Disorders has Bipolar Disorder and is a professor at Harvard University. Therefore, this outdated stereotype about mental health is costing the lives of children for no reason and is preventing us from making scientific advances. A teenager with a mental health issue may be able to discover a cure for cancer, but it will never happen if the need psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy is not easy and can be very painful. Anyone who is willing to participate in psychotherapy because they need it should be given encouragement and support not looked down upon. It is similar to ancient times when women were considered dangerous and could not be around anyone when they were undergoing their menstrual cycle. We now know this idea is crazy. If you look at the research we know the same facts about mental health. Therefore, why do we continue to use the old stereotype. If we want the mental health issues in children and teenagers to decrease and if we want to decrease the number of people living in the street, we need to provide mental health services to anyone who needs them without making the person feel embarrassed or ashamed.
Some people may say I have no right to say what I am saying. I disagree with that opinion. I am dealing with this epidemic daily, therefore I know what children and teenagers are facing. Part of helping them face their issues is speaking out on their behalf.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers and children. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino’s work or private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3