Resources unavailable for teens suffering from mental illness

“13 Reasons Why” is the show teenagers are raving about. However, mental health experts across the country are waving a big red flag in front of it, and here is why.
The main concerns raised about the show include that it romanticizes the idea of suicide, could lead to an increase in copy-cat behavior, shows adults in ways that may prevent people from seeking help in the real world, and incorrectly portrays suicide as an action that cannot be stopped.
The show has received so much backlash that the JED Foundation, a national nonprofit that works to protect mental health and prevent suicide, issued a guide about the show and how to watch it. JED recommends that viewers watch “13 Reasons Why” with a friend who can help if things get too intense and to take breaks between episodes.
The National Association of School Psychologists has advised teenagers who have had suicidal thoughts to avoid the “13 Reasons Why” series entirely.
While the show was meant to bring attention to important issues affecting adolescents, experts say the series ignores one major point: most children who die by suicide have a mental health disorder, like depression, that is treatable.
“In the society we live in, people usually don’t speak out about mental illnesses,” Michele Autenrieth Brown, director of development at Clarity Child Guidance Center, said. “People are afraid of the repercussions of their mental illness being known, so they stay quiet, even if it means not getting the help they need.”
The Clarity Child Guidance Center is the only non-profit mental health help center for kids in South Texas, after Texas State Hospitals closed to adolescents this past February. The center offers inpatient, outpatient, emergency care and day treatment, based on a child’s level of need. The center is open to everyone, and no one is turned away for lack of insurance or ability to pay.
One in five adolescents have a diagnosable mental health disorder, adding up to over 80,000 children in Bexar County alone, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Over 90 percent of individuals who die by suicide experience mental illness.
“It’s common for people in crisis to feel like they’re alone, to think, ‘How can anyone know what I’m feeling?’” Autenrieth Brown said. “But no one is alone. Just sitting in a classroom, there are likely several other kids feeling the same way.”
The most common mental illnesses are depression, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia — all completely diagnosable and treatable, yet millions go untreated each year.
“People just aren’t as concerned with mental health as they are with physical health,” Autenrieth Brown said. “You would never take a child who’s diabetic and refuse them insulin, but that’s exactly what we’re doing with those that need mental help.”
Among adolescents with mental health needs, 70 percent do not receive needed care, and nearly half of the programs offered by the State Child Health Insurance Program place limits on inpatient and outpatient mental health services. In the state of Texas, there are only four licensed child psychiatrists for every 100,000 children with mental illnesses. As a result, one in four adults have a diagnosable mental health disorder, almost always as a continuation from childhood.
“We’re really failing kids when it comes to mental health,” Autenrieth Brown said. “Doctors can refer parents to child psychiatrists, but many of them won’t take insurance, so parents either have to pay out of pocket, or children can’t receive treatment.”
In the United States, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults and the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 24. Between 500,000 and 1 million young people ages 15 to 24 attempt suicide each year, and each year more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, according to the Center for Disease Control.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that, on average, 121 suicides occur each day, and that firearms account for almost 50 percent of all suicides. Annually, suicide costs the United States $51 billion.
“As of right now, the largest mental health care provider is the prison system,” Autenrieth Brown said. “If mental health was treated the same way as physical health, we wouldn’t need as many prison beds or as much money going into prisons, because people would be receiving the care they needed ahead of time.”
At least $700 billion is spent annually in the United States on preventable adolescent health problems, but the money has yet to be financed in a way that effectively covers youth outreach programs, counselor or mental health specialist availability, and school-based health centers. In a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 45 percent of adolescents said they would have sought help for depression if parents had not been notified, due to lack of comfort to reach out.
“Teachers and counselors are doing the best they can right now,” Autenrieth Brown said. “There are a lot of trainings for staff on how to spot if someone needs help, and how to help them, but these are not always readily available. The fact of the matter is, it takes district resources to send people to those trainings, and the money for it just isn’t there.”
The most common warning signs that someone is experiencing a mental illness are if they frequently feel anxious or worried, are intensely irritable much of the time, have trouble sleeping (including frequent nightmares), lose interest in things they used to find enjoyable, avoid time with friends, have low or no energy for no reason, or harm themselves, such as cutting or burning their skin.
If someone is in danger, call 911. To speak to someone for self-help, people may call the Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line, 741741.

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