Need to Address Mental Health in Youth

Youth Show Biases Against Mental Health Disorders


Approximately one in ten American children experience a behavioral, emotional, or mental health disorder. The fear of being ostracized or stigmatized by their peers and family often dissuades young people from seeking care or support for these identifiable and treatable conditions. A new nation-wide survey, conducted by the Research and Training Center on Family Support and Children’s Mental Health (RTC) in collaboration with Harris Interactive, focused on perceptions of mental health challenges among children aged 8-18. The RTC worked with a youth advisory panel to develop the survey questions. More than 1,300 children and teenagers completed the survey.
Results indicate that encouraging youth to seek out support for their mental health difficulties can be very difficult.  For example, the survey found that approximately one out of every six youth (15%) believe that people in their family think that if you have depression you should not tell anyone outside the family, compared to only one out of 30 (3%) for asthma. About half of youth reported that they would most likely talk to a friend (57%) or their parents (49%) and pray (44%) if they thought they had depression. They also reported they would try harder to think and act “normally” (40%) or wait for it to go away (28%). In contrast, if they believed they had asthma, over 80% of youth indicated they would talk to a doctor and/or their parents, and almost 70% would take medication.
Survey results also showed that youth with mental health conditions are more likely to be stigmatized by their peers than youth with physical conditions. Youth were asked questions about a fictional student, Michael, who had one of three conditions – depression, ADHD or asthma. Results indicated that Michael was more likely to be made fun of by most students when he is not around for having depression (38%) than for having ADHD (31%) or asthma (23%). Fewer youth reported expecting other students to sit with Michael to eat lunch if he were depressed (31%) than if he had ADHD (38%) or asthma (49%), and also thought that students would be less likely to invite Michael with depression to parties or outings (27%) than Michael with ADHD (34%) or asthma (45%).
You can review the preliminary results of the survey in Harris Interactive’s September Trends and Tudes newsletter. We will be conducting further analyses of this data, and will keep you informed of any new developments from the RTC.
The results of this survey bring up complicated concerns regarding peer-perceptions of mental health challenges among children and adolescents.

  • Does it surprise you that almost 2 out of 5 youth believe a peer with depression would be made fun of behind his back or that he would be more likely to sit alone during lunchtime?
  • How might the study’s findings about the coping mechanisms youth would use if they had depression (talk to friends and family and pray rather than talk to a doctor) influence the ways that adults and mental health professionals address children’s needs?
  • How might the study’s findings impact school policy or a classroom environment?

As always, we encourage you to share your views on this topic, and look forward to your response.

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