Mental Illness Among Adolescents is Going Off the Charts

It is no secret that declining mental health is rapidly becoming a public health crisis. It is estimated that by 2020, substance use disorders and mental illness will become the primary cause of disability around the world, surpassing physical diseases.

The mantra of the public health establishment is that the impending mental health crisis can be solved by expanding resources and increasing funding for increased for “public behavioral health services.” The answer is new treatment centers, more mental health care practitioners, and broadening the scale of community intervention.

Pharmaceutical companies have their take. They pour marketing dollars into a perpetual campaign designed to convince parents and mental health workers that anxiety, depression, and trauma are biochemical disorders and can be treated pharmacologically.

However, every doctor knows that The Hippocratic Oath compels him/her before helping the patient, care must be taken to “first not harm.” If so, perhaps before we capitulate to the public health establishment or pharmaceutical companies, we need to step back, take a deep breath and consider something entirely different.

What if a significant percentage of mental illness among adolescents stems from the child’s or adolescent’s feeling of disconnection from the school community?

How Can We Solve a Problem We Don’t Even Understand?

The National Institute of Mental Health says it with extreme simplicity. “Mental disorders are the chronic diseases of the young.” And what is the source of the problem? In analyzing data from a study of over 35,000 teens, The Center for Disease Control found that more than anything else “school disconnectedness” to be the primary culprit.

Alternatively, school connectedness was found to be the most effective antidote to protect youth from school absenteeism, promiscuity, substance abuse, and violence. What’s more, after family connectedness, school connectedness was found to be the second most crucial protector against eating disorders, emotional stress, and suicide.

Generally speaking, a child’s or adolescent’s school and related social experience become the most accurate predictors of their moods for years to come. Those students fortunate enough to feel connected to their school experience and everything about it will less likely choose risky behaviors later on.

What is School Connectedness?

School connectedness includes the following components of the school experience:

  • I feel safe and secure in this school
  • My teachers treat me with respect and are fair with me
  • I am happy that I attend this school
  • I feel like I belong in this school and feel a part of it
  • I feel close to both adults and children at this school

So how common is it for a kid to feel connected to his/her school? A recent Gallup poll found that only 44% of those asked felt “connected” to the school. What a catastrophe!

A possible reason that something so blatantly obvious is not even being considered is that academic research is being conducted by those who did feel connected which explains why they continued to formal education. Building upon their successful school experience, they became the experts who decide how a school should look!

The Only Real Answer

Based upon all of this depressing data, one must conclude that reforming education is the only real solution we have to address the mental health epidemic. Either we do something about the schools, or we may have to accept that an increasing segment of our kids will be depressed, become alienated, abuse alcohol and drugs, and commit suicide!

We must create schools that integrate academic performance with emotional health. This means smaller classes, one-on-one attention, teacher familiarity, and above all, fostering a sense of belonging. The objective of school needs to be transformed from centers of knowledge and academic development to centers of human evolution.

The focus needs to shift from cutting edge technologies and pedagogies to forging incubators of child and teen subcultures that will provide the foundation and guidance to a life of well-being and happiness. It is not that schools are causing mental illness, but in their current form, they are indeed standing in the way of mental health!