May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a time when organizations across the country work to educate their communities about mental health, fight stigma, and advocate for policies that support individuals and families facing mental health challenges.
By now, we are all aware of the mental health epidemic among teens and young adults. The US Surgeon General has referred to this problem as an “urgent public health crisis” and doctors are reporting increasingly high rates of attempted suicide. In 2019, 13% of adolescents reported having a major depressive episode, up 60% from 2007. Suicide rates for ages 10-24 jumped by nearly 60% over the same timeframe (New York Times). And that was before COVID. At Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee, doctors see teen suicide attempts at least once every shift (CBS News).
Over the past year, in collaboration with Fiveable, we have surveyed students about their anxiety, stress, and self-confidence. This month, we sought to better understand the access that students have to mental health resources, and the stigma that can prevent them from seeking and receiving help.
To accomplish this, we surveyed over 400 members Fiveable’s student community. We found that almost 90% of students reported that they have mental health concerns and nearly half of all students are not receiving the help that they need.
To understand why students were unable to receive the care they need, we broke down the data and identified three main reasons: stigma, access, and social support.
Many high school students are too embarrassed to ask for help. Of the 47% indicating that they are not getting the help they need, more than half (56%) say they are too embarrassed to ask for help. Stigma was the most frequently endorsed reason for not being able to get the help they need.
50% of students reported that therapy is too expensive, about 25% report they can’t find a therapist that works with their schedule or location, and 22% have had a hard time finding a good fit. With the high cost associated with therapy and the high demand for quality therapists, it is becoming increasingly difficult for teens to speak with licensed counselors.
This has led many teens to seek advice on Google (62%), social media (50%), and from other teens (50%).
When teens are struggling with mental health problems, they may want or need to reach out to trusted others for help. Help may simply include being supportive but can also be an important way in which teens get connected to available resources in their community. Unfortunately, many youth don’t have close social supports. In particular, many students report not having trusted adults (e.g., parents, family friends, teachers, school counselors, etc.) to reach out to.
Of the students who report not being able to get the help they need, less than half (39%) report having at least one trusted adult they can ask for support. Nearly a quarter (23%) report having no one to talk to, and the rest (38%) report having peer support but no adult support. And while peer support can be helpful and help make students feel less alone, other teens aren't trained to handle complex mental health issues, and the burden of supporting peers can be a lot to bear.
Of note, 10% of these students - the ones who say they need help but can’t find it - say that their parents won’t allow them to seek mental health treatment. There may be many reasons for parent resistance to supporting child treatment seeking, including age and cultural differences in mental health stigma. Ben G., a member of Joon Care's Student Advisory Board who has overcome mental health challenges, recounted how important it is to have parental support and the opportunity to seek outside help:
“Mental health can feel scary, and it may be stressful for parents. Hearing about your child’s struggles may surprise you and quite possibly concern you. But being able to have in depth conversations about fragile and difficult topics and helping to lead your child to the right resources is so important. The first thing to do is find a therapist both the parents and the child feel comfortable with, and can be open with.”
At Joon, our mission is to improve access to quality mental health care for teens and young adults. We invite you to join us in fostering positive, trust-based connections with the young people in your life, validating their mental health concerns, and supporting seeking mental health care without stigma. And, if a friend or family member needs help with their mental health, please share available resources.