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Conversations We Need to Have: Teens and Mental Health

Following the tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut last week, there are many conversations we need to having. Many actions we need to be taking. Some of those conversations, however, are taking the wrong turn.

Instead of talking about gun control and gun safety, people are talking about 'those crazy people'.   I want you to know that "for every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides" (source: National Institutes of Health). In other words, that gun you own to "protect" your family is 22 times more likely to hurt or kill them than to protect them.

I also want you to know that mental health conditions do not cause violence. I want you to read this post from a friend of mine who is autistic and has two autistic children and I want you to read this anonymous guest post below from another friend. I want you to understand that people with mental health conditions are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. I want you to understand that we need to get better treatment for them, because that is what is fair and humane, not just because a violent criminal killed a lot of people with an assault weapon he should never have had access to. 

Please read this story. Please take action. Please talk about the issues.

Teens and Mental Health

I sat with my teen daughter on Friday night and discussed what happened in Newtown.

We talked about the kids, and then we talked about mental health.

It is said the shooter had a mental health issue, which may have been a factor.

My daughter called Hogwash.

She has been diagnosed at 14 with ADD, a LD, ODD and shows many signs of borderline personality disorder but they will not give that diagnosis until she is an adult.  Like many teens with multiple diagnoses that are struggling to get treated, to be treated well, and to simply be cared about, her strength amazes me.

Most teens like my daughter who have personality disorders are not violent. I find that the only time my daughter has been, has been in reaction to the treatment she has received at the hands of others.  About 99% of the time she is well behaved, helpful, and kind. When she gets angry she can lash out but has never hurt anyone. In fact the statistics shows that teens with a mental disorder are more likely to endure attacks than to attack.

In the case of my teen, she has visited the emergency room three times because she was bullied at school. Once her lip was split open and she bled for two hours. The other two times she was beaten black and blue, the first time just steps off school property, the second at our local park.

Violence and mental health do go hand in hand, but people suffering from mental health issues are more likely to be at the receiving end of violence. To state that a young man shot so many because well he was anti-social is, as my daughter put it, Hogwash. So do not blame this solely on mental health.  We do ourselves an injustice if we do.

Now, there does need to be a discussion on our lack of care of those who suffer from mental health issues, but not because of what happened in Newtown. Here in Canada it is simply long overdue.

Did you know even here in Ontario, 1 in 5 kids who are suffering is ever treated.

Over 4000 Canadian youth kill themselves every year. Read that number again. 4000. That is 4000 Canadian parents burying their children too early and too young (ages 15-24).

That is shocking.

Teens who are suffering isolate themselves.

Teens cut themselves, they isolate and they commit suicide, not murder, and they are more likely to be harmed than to do harm.  Suicide is the leading killer of teens in Canada and Canada has the 3rd highest teen suicide rate in the industrial world.

There needs to be better support for our teens who are struggling, and we all know that early intervention at the onset of symptoms works best. Yet here in Canada teens languish on wait lists. My daughter will have waited over a year to get help once she does.

Currently I pay for her care instead of waiting. What choice did I have as a parent? I will always make sure her needs are met.

We need to change our attitudes about those who are different, quirky and out of the box. We need to change how we think about these issues. We need to be quicker in our support of these teens.

No good can come out of what happened in Newtown. To say there can be is wrong.  To say this incident happened because of his mental health is wrong, and paints a very incomplete picture.

What would be right?

Think. Don’t jump to a quick conclusion, and when it comes to teens and mental health let’s do the right thing and get them the support they need.

Image credit: Nathan Csonka Photography on flickr

This is the story of one parent and one child, but there are many more like them. You can make a difference. Lobby your politicians for better access to mental health services for everyone, especially youth. Lobby your politicians for better gun control. Talk to your friends about these issues and ensure that if they own guns, that they are storing them safely (and perhaps reconsidering whether they even need one at all). Talk to your friends about mental health and ensure they are reaching out for help if they need it or if their children need it. Talking more and taking action is what is needed right now, not further stigmatization of people suffering from mental health problems.

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Reader Comments (7)

Very powerful and thought-provoking. Thank you.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

The article is very informative. Every teen, not just those who have problems with mental health should be provided with the love and support that they need. They should be treated in a way that they will be able to feel that they are loved and cared for. Being a teenager or the adolescent stage is the most difficult stage in growing up so as parents, we should be there for them and guide them to the right path.

December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Dubac

Hi - I absolutely agree that the discussion is about two issues: mental health care and gun control. I worked in a facility with people with severe and persistent mental illnesses. Some were homicidal and many were suicidal. It was basically impossible to stay as an employee in such a facility, the pay was a little above minimum wage, for someone with a masters degree (??). So of course I moved on, I would've stayed on there if there was a living wage paid, but the funding is not there for this. So they are cared for with a revolving door of counselors people, coming & going. At least there is a conversation about mental health care and gun control. A group of us blogging therapists are having a blog party (I dont want to call it a party, but that;s what everyone seems to call these things- guess I'll try to think of a different name) about these issues, to raise awareness, providing evidence-based information and resources. There are alot of opinions about these issues, alot of people don't have facts they have opinions. Opinions are ok, people are allowed to have them, I accept that. But they are just personal opinions if there is just only feelings behind it, not evidence -based debatable issues. The NIH information you posted is great factual info, thanks!

Instead of the word "party", you might try "summit". :)

December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGinger Baker

[...] Conversations We Need to Have: Teens and Mental Health (PhD in Parenting) A stirring look at the state of mental health among teens, specifically that the very individuals currently being villainized as a result of this tragedy are often the victims. [...]

[...] I’ve actively been trying to avoid talking about the shooting in Newton that happened this past December. Not because it is unworthy of a blog post; quite the opposite.  My heart is still heavy with the thought, but my blog is really not the best platform for discussion…and even if I did post about it, all I could say was “why?” and say some sad things.  There are so many other bloggers who are able to put words together and discuss matters intelligently and thoughtfully, like Annie at PhD in Parenting, one of my favourite local bloggers. I especially enjoyed reading Conversations We Need to Have: Teens and Mental Health. [...]

Thank you for posting this. It is unfortunate that it comes on the heels of such a tragedy.
You have touched on a few diverse points here; gun accessibility, the reality of being a teen with mental health concerns and lack of care options. I encourage you to write a full blog post about each.
I work for CameronHelps, an organization that promotes mental health through physical exercise. We have implemented teen run programs with our partner agencies throughout southern Ontario and are growing rapidly. I encourage readers to check our website (cameronhelps.ca) to learn more.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Knox

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