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A New Sign That Teens Know They Aren’t Struggling Alone

Posted 02/26/2019

by: Amanda Mull 

In the past decade, young people in the United States have borne the brunt of some of the most highly publicized sources of stress. Mental illness is an enormous public-health concern for Americans of any age, but things such as anxiety over school shootings and the fallout of cyberbullying can make being young in this country uniquely difficult, on top of looming concerns such as college debt and building a career. Adolescents are seeing the emotional ramifications of these problems play out among their peers in huge numbers. But the statistics might contain a significant silver lining about teen mental health.

Jeff Hutchens / Getty JEFF HUTCHENS / GETTY

Earlier this week, the Pew Research Council released the results of a survey conducted among a nationally representative sample of 920 American teens ages 13 to 17. It asked them about their relationships with family and friends, goals for the future, and the pressures they feel now. The findings contain a number of interesting data points about the country’s youngest generation—more teen boys than teen girls say marriage is important to them, for example—but that 70 percent of teens see mental health as a major struggle for their peers is maybe the survey’s most alarming result.

About 20 percent of American adolescents struggle with some kind of mental-health disorder, most commonly depression or anxiety. Recent studies suggest that those problems are becoming more widespread. Most of these cases are treatable, but as with adults, stigma has long been a significant barrier to accessing help for teens. “People are afraid of mental illness,” says Jennifer Havens, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. “Adolescents commonly have symptoms for like five to seven years before they get treatment for depression.”

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