Posted by: Jack Hope | Wednesday July 11, 2012

Adolescents and Mental Illness

Last night I participated in a twitter discussion regarding adolescent mental illness and Clinical Depression. Given that my Depression first manifested during adolescence and I was very curious to see what people had to say on the subject.

You can check out a transcript of the conversation here.

The conversation was certainly interesting and I gained many insights, but afterwards I feel the need to re-iterate a few of my own key contentions about helping teenagers struggling with mental health issues.  One of the great advantages of a blog is the opportunity to present your thoughts in a much more organized and coherent fashion, as well as to re-evaluate your initial assumptions.

The first and most important point to me is that if we are to get a grip on teenage mental health issues and in particular suicide, we have to be prepared to grant teenagers a greater degree of autonomy in their own healthcare and healthcare decisions. Attempting to restrict information from teenagers is both futile and self-defeating.

We have to acknowledge that in the mental health realm, just like sexuality (and the two often overlap) many teenagers are not going to be comfortable with their parents being heavily involved in their treatment. While I’m sure most parents are supportive in a mental health situation (mine were) in many cases parents, even well-intentioned parents, can be hostile to mental health professionals and to the treatments necessary for their children. Parents can also be the source of the problems, in the form of abuse.

We have to give teenagers the ability to seek out these services on their own and independently, we cannot treat them like they are the property of their parents who have a complete and total veto over what avenues they might pursue.

At the very least, unfettered access to counselling services needs to be an absolute priority for teenagers. It’s time to move psychological counselling, particularly for youth, from the ‘optional’ to ‘mandatory’ category in our healthcare system.

In my case I responded to the cognitive therapy, although in hindsight, seeing a psychiatrist would have been the best thing for me. Cognitive therapy can pull me out of an episode, but it’s never brought me back to full strength as it were.

Even so, I am certainly grateful for the help that I received then (in a much different era on questions of mental health) as it did allow me to get back to being the person I had been. Even if I was unfortunately left poorly prepared to deal with a recurrence of Clinical Depression.

Which brings me to another important point: mental health is a part of health.

We need to start treating mental health issues the same we treat any other health issues and that means all of us. For teenagers, that means giving our schools and teachers the resources to help teenagers learn to manage their own mental health and to learn about the various issues that they may come across.

When you consider that 1 out of every 5 people will experience a mental illness, not giving young people a comprehensive education on the subject with access to lots of professional resources is nothing short of criminal.

We owe it to the generations coming up to make sure they are able to fully benefit from all that we have learned about mental health over the last 30 years.

As always, I invite you to share any thoughts you may have on this subject by leaving a comment.



  1. I don’t know if it’s like this where you live but in Ontario, Canada once you turn 16 your healthcare becomes your own. Parents do not need to know anything about your doctors visits. This made me feel safer since I didn’t want my parents knowing everything.

    Mental health should be apart of your overall health. I don’t like that private counselling would barely be covered by my health insurance for more than a few weeks but I can walk into the doctor as much as I want. I barely need the doctor but I do need a mental health professional.

    • That’s good to know, thank you! When I was going through this, here in Alberta it was definitely the case that up until 18 my parents had to be involved in all medical decisions. I don’t know if that’s changed or not since then.

      Certainly though, in North America, there is still a lot of debate about teenagers and their ability to make decisions about their healthcare and how much parents can interfere. I suspect as mental health issues become more and more prominent there will be a lot of pushback on that front too.

      • I saw a good poster a few months ago that was about teen pregnancy but it can be applied to this as well. It was a picture of a young girl with a sign that said “I’m not old enough to make a choice about my body (abortion) but I’m you’ll let me become a mom?”

        If I have to live with the illness, take the medication, go through therapy then I should have the control. With proper guidance teens can make good choices. We need to give them opportunities to be responsible.

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