According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), every year about 20 percent of 13–18 year olds undergo a serious mental disorder. If this number were to reflect the youth living within the Granite Bay area, then 415 out of the 2074 students attending Granite Bay High School would be affected by this growing health issue.
“We’ve got to stop this,” health teacher Kathie Sinor said, “and the only way to do this is by creating better awareness.”
According to the GBHS ninth–grade health textbook, a mental disorder is “an illness that affects a person’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors”. However, doctor Katherine Kilgore, a psychologist in the Folsom area, describes it with a bit more detail.
“(It’s) when the mental process is interfered with in some way due to injury or brain dysfunction or external influences,” she said. “Thinking is slowed and confused. Thoughts tend to slip away. Boring. Flat. Grey. Dark.”
Although both of these descriptions are general summaries of what a mental disorder is, not everyone goes through the same experience. There is a wide variety of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, phobias, anorexia, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Kilgore said the most common of these are major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders and stress-related disorders. “Not being able to manage your stress,” Sinor said, “can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair.”
Causes of mental illnesses include genetic, biological, psychological and environmental factors. Sinor said teenagers sometimes look for a way out.
“A lot of times teens attempt to self-medicate through the use of alcohol or marijuana or other drugs,” Sinor said, “and this actually can cause more severity in the symptoms.”
The human brain does not reach full maturity until the mid-20s. Because the brain is still developing, the interference of external influences can lead to potentially permanent damage.
To treat these symptoms before they get out of hand, people struggling with their mental health have the option of going through recovery. This can include either inpatient or outpatient care.
“(Recovery) is very stressful and difficult to accept for the individual,” said a girl who was diagnosed with anorexia last year and wished to remain anonymous. “It provokes anger, sadness, annoyance and untruthfulness to everyone involved, but all of it is worth it.”
But not everyone with a mental health concern goes through recovery. According to NAMI, in 2012, about 50 percent of 8–15 year olds with a mental illness did not receive mental health care.
“People still aren’t open about sharing that they’re going through that,” school nurse Jennifer Serrano said, “because they’re embarrassed or afraid people are not going to understand.”
Misunderstanding can lead to stereotypes and false interpretations. People who have had or currently have a mental disorder are sometimes characterized by their illness rather than their person.
“(Others think) that people (with a mental illness) are crazy,” Serrano said. “I think we throw that word out a lot, (when), for the most part, it’s an everyday thing that they’re just trying to get through.”
A person with a mental illness has to deal with the negative connotations associated with it in addition to having to deal with the illness itself.
“Living with a mental illness may not seem hard,” the anonymous girl said, “but really it actually is very (hard), and it takes a lot of strength.”
Published in November 2014
Cowritten by Anjali Shrivastava and Carissa Lewis