Teenage Mental Illness is Real

david hobson iphone photos 02182012 022The smile you see on a teenager, the smile that you, as a teenager, flash to your family and friends may sometimes be a just a mask.  Teenagers are supposed to be healthy and when their health is compromised communities rally around them. It’s natural. A teenager who suffers from physical health crisis is easy to spot and we all want to help. In this country mental health is different. We see smiling teens, but we can’t see behind the smile. That smile may be a mask, It may hide depression or another mental health illness. Often teenagers themselves don’t see it or don’t want to recognize that they may have compromised mental health. This can lead to lifelong suffering and in some cases loss of life.

Traffic accidents and murders are way too numerous in our country. We can all agree on that.  Depression induced suicide outpaces traffic accidents and murder. There are over 40,000 suicides each year and almost all of them are mental health related.  For every suicide identified suicide there are more that are never identified. The statistics are just the top the iceberg. And for every suicide, how many people, how many teens, silently suffer from compromised mental health?

Would you do something if you could? Would you help? You can.

There is hope.  Recognition is the first step in treatment.  You can get better, your friend or family member can get better.

Founded in 2016, Underneath the Smile is a new charitable organization dedicated to education and advocacy for teenagers and young people who have or think they may have a mental illness.  Specifically, our mission is to work with schools to educate educators and to advocate for the mental health of their students. Our organization’s name is a recognition of the fact that often teenagers and young adults are reluctant to admit that they have a mental health issue. Just as often parents, friends, and teachers don’t recognize that mental health issue.

Other than parents, educators and employers spend the most time with young people and are the one other adult best able to identify mental health issues. Yet, these groups receive scant training on identifying mental health concerns. We seek to educate educators, employers, and schools on how to recognize mental health concerns in their students and more importantly what steps to take once there is a concern. We offer education, training, guidelines, and support. We provide when possible financial support to affected teens and young people.

Are you an educator or a small business owner? Have you considered mental health as an integrated part of your curriculum or a concern that affects the young people you supervise? You should.

Did you know that 16% of high school students seriously consider suicide.   Moreover, for very suicide or suicide attempt, many students will continue to silently suffer from the effects of mental illness, many for their entire lives. How many of your students will silently suffer the rest of their lives with a mental health issue that could have been diagnosed and treated if only someone would have noticed what was behind their smile?

We would like you to consider some other facts: According to a report from the National Institute for Health Care Management 90 percent of teens who die by suicide were suffering from an identifiable mental disorder at their time of death, typically depression.  90%!  Depression also can be an indication that the teenager is struggling with other mental health concerns.  According to a National Institutes of Mental Health report 77 percent of 15 to 24 year olds diagnosed with major depression had at least one other psychiatric diagnosis.  Among those with multiple diagnoses, 40 percent had anxiety disorders, 12 percent had addictive disorders, and 25 percent had conduct disorders.

So why focus on schools and businesses that employ young people? Why is this something that schools or you as a business owner should be concerned with? Consider this example, teenagers and young people are much like the cellphones they carry.  Cell phones need three things to work, they need apps to be productive, they need their hardware to be working in proper order, and they need their operating system to work properly and control everything. Our schools are good at inputting apps into our kids. Students get the algebra app, or the grammar app,the chemistry app, etc. As an employer, you know how to train people to do their jobs. Likewise, no school would fail to inform a parent if their kid’s hardware was broken and they would work to accommodate those students.  Kids with physical illnesses get help and support from our schools.  Employers don’t want to lose a good employee with a physical issue if they can accommodate them. However, what can be the most important part of that mix, the operating system or the mental health of a young person or employee, if you will, gets scant attention.  When it does get attention it is often lumped in with behavioral or character problems and a young person’s mental health is never considered.

It has been proven that depression and the mental illness has a tangible effect on brain function and development, meaning that the longer the mental illness goes untreated, the greater the chance of serious, irreparable harm is done to a teenager’s brain.  What percentage of your students are graduating educated but damaged? How often do you lose a good employee because of a mental health issue?

We want to change all of this. The first step to treating depression and another mental health issue is recognizing the symptoms. Those symptoms are sometimes difficult to distinguish from the normal anxiety that accompanies puberty and adolescence and quite frankly growing up. After recognizing the symptoms there needs to be a support network and system of procedures to help impacted young people.  No parent should feel the isolation and loneliness of walking alone with a child with a mental illness. No young person should feel isolated and alone.

Underneath the Smile is just beginning it’s mission.  I founded Underneath the Smile because I know the awful consequences that can develop when mental illness is not detected. On August 26, 2014 my oldest son, David Hobson took his life. We are still recovering from his loss and will will be for the rest of our lives. I am determined to help as many young people as I can.  Schools and employers can help too we just need to give them the tools.  Join us as we organize Underneath the Smile. Every young person silently suffering from a mental illness deserves our support.

Stuart Hobson