Teens who get help when symptoms of depression and other problems first arise can avoid serious mental health issues later on. Learn more.
Don’t just assume your moody teenager will grow out of his or her depression or anxiety. Research shows teens who see a therapist and get help with mental health issues — especially in their early teen years — are likely to not only improve their emotional and mental health during adolescence but also possibly throughout the rest of their lives.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge recruited 1,238 14-year-olds and their parents or other caregivers for a long-term study. The youngsters, who were all attending secondary schools in the UK, reported any depression symptoms they were experiencing at the time, and they also met with researchers from the Cambridge psychiatry department who assessed the teens for mental health problems.
At the start of the study, 126 (11 percent) of the research subjects had signs of a mental illness, but only 48 of these teenagers had seen any mental health professionals for help with their problems. By the time the kids were 17, the youngsters who had been depressed at age 14 but received no treatment were seven times more likely to have clinical depression than other teens who had received counseling and other therapy for their depression symptoms in earlier years.
In fact, getting help from mental health services professionals was so helpful to the teens who received it that, after three years, their symptoms of depression had plummeted and were about the same as 1,000 youngsters who did not suffer from clinical depression, according the findings of the study, published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.
"Mental illness can be a terrible burden on individuals, but our study shows clearly that if we intervene at an early stage, we can see potentially dramatic improvements in adolescents' symptoms of depression and reduce the risk that they go on to develop severe depressive illness," said Sharon Neufeld, first author of the study and a research associate in the Cambridge psychiatry department.
While the Cambridge study involved British children, the problem of mental illness in teens and children in also of concern in the U.S. One out of every 10 children and adolescents in the U.S. has a serious mental health problem, while an additional 10 percent have mild-to-moderate problems, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
In all, approximately 15 million of the nation's young people are believed to suffer from mental health disorders. However, fewer than half of these receive professional treatment, services, or support, the APA notes.
Untreated, depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems in children and teens can result in not only moodiness and falling grades but also tragic consequences, such as drug and alcohol abuse, criminal behavior, failure to finish high school, an inability to eventually live independently, and even suicide, the APA points out.
In addition, mental health problems that continue without treatment can impact physical health over time. For example, an overweight teen who is teased about his weight may withdraw socially, become depressed, and stop trying to participate in sports, resulting in poorer physical health and more depression.
The APA urges parents to make sure their teens and children receive professional help for emotional and mental health problems. To find a psychologist or other mental health professional for your youngster, ask your child’s school counselor, your doctor, or community health center for recommendations.
The APA offers an online search engine for psychologists in all areas of the U.S. who treat specific age groups, including teens. Visit the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for more information on finding mental health treatment for youngsters.
September 13, 2017
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA