Mental health issues on the rise in American teenagers


Photo provided by: Created by: Madeline Wheaton

Senior Madeline Wheaton creates a depiction representing the symptoms that may accompany certain mental health issues like depression. This piece demonstrates how a person may appear one way to the onlooker, however struggles internally with mental health disorders and symptoms that cannot be seen. “So I think taking the time to listen to someone and normalize their feelings and not make them feel as if they’re just being silly or that they are not important in what they’re thinking [is important],” licensed clinical social worker Edn Habte said.

Miryam Elshaer and Joelle Wittig

Many who knew junior Landon Gonzalez would have never imagined that he struggled with depression or anxiety disorders. Yet, the sad reality of mental illness is that it can affect anyone at any point in their life and can often go unnoticed.

According to the Center for Discovery, about 20 percent of teenagers experience depression before adulthood. These illnesses are on the rise in teenagers with the rates of depression increasing by 37 percent since 2005, according to These statistics may appear daunting due to the lack of recognition and awareness that depression and anxiety receive. However, it is more common than most realize, with an average of six people in every 30-person class suffering from the symptoms of depression.

“[Signs of depression include] change[s] in behaviors: all of the sudden they don’t want to hang out with friends, not taking care of themselves as far as hygiene goes, major changes in behavior, irritability,” licensed clinical social worker Edn Habte said. “Just listening, empathizing, encouraging them to talk to other people who feel the same, and normalizing the feelings [is important to helping those affected].”

Thus, in order to combat the negative effects that these illnesses cause it is necessary to seek professional help when afflicted by depressive thoughts and anxiety. Gonzalez’s short life demonstrates the importance of speaking out and getting help. In the United States alone, about 60 percent of children with depressive disorder and 80 percent of children with anxiety disorder are going untreated according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Those afflicted should reach out to a friend or a trusted adult in order to move forward and begin the process of limiting the effects of mental illness.

“At this point, we are still in the early stages of understanding the brain and its function,”  Board Certified in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Ricardo Bernal MD said. “It is believed to be the case that some disorders are consequent to insufficient quantities of a chemical in the brain, to overactive brain circuitry or excessive amounts of other chemicals in the brain. Unfortunately, the understanding of such tends to be primarily “empirical” (that is, based on observations and not necessarily based on knowledge of where the problem exactly lies). Medication can help increase the amounts of a certain chemical available in certain parts of the brain, or reduce the effect of an overactive circuit or chemical in other parts of the brain; that is the hypothesis behind what medicines do and the reason they work.”

Mental illnesses are said to be triggered by chemical imbalances in the brain which often stems from genetic history, trauma/stress, or environmental impacts. In order to combat these symptoms one may take medicine in substitute of, or in addition to, talk therapy to balance out chemicals causing the problem. However, medication often has side effects causing patients to feel uncomfortable, a reliance on their properties, and the fear of how they may react emotionally to the medication. Finding the medicine that works best is often a long and experimental process, which may also contribute the apprehension regarding medicine. Once going through the process of finding what works best, the medication offers benefits that will help the patient much quicker than traditional psychotherapy does, which requires a change in mindset or lifestyle.

“Finding a medication for my mental health issues was very experimental, multiple of the medications I’ve tried have had completely adverse effects while others have helped me while having just some negative effects,” junior Ryan Alsup said. “I eventually found a medication that worked really well.”

Within society, there is often a stigma surrounding mental illness and the effects it may have but it is crucial to combat these ideas through open communication and seeking medical help. It is important to recognize that no one is ever alone in their journey. Mental illness is a complex disease that many do not understand, but that is why it is crucial for those afflicted by mental illness or people with loved ones who suffer from mental illness to educate the public and encourage others to receive treatment.

“The most important thing to remember is this,” Landon’s sister Rosalyn Gonzalez said. “You do not have to be strong. Do not be afraid to admit you are suffering. You are loved. Your life is so incredibly precious, and any pain that you may be in now is temporary, as all things in this world are. These beautiful moments we have are fleeing. They pass by and we wonder if we appreciated them enough, when instead we should be focusing on the moments that we have.”