Youth with mental health disorders often experience difficulties in a variety of settings including within their own families at home, in school, and in the community.
Frequently, because of their behavior, they pose challenges to parents and siblings and are sometimes singled out and blamed for family distress and disruption. Family relationships often become strained because parents and caregivers do not know how to help their children or themselves. The parental relationship is challenged, which may lead to marital discord. The challenges may affect the family’s relationship with relatives as well as its social network, which may isolate the family from potential sources of support. Sometimes this cycle of difficult family interactions leads to social isolation.
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Some youth with mental health disorders have a difficult time succeeding in school. It is not because they do not want to succeed, but their behaviors, thoughts, and emotions sometimes do not allow them to fully succeed and they are therefore frequently referred for disciplinary reasons even though the cause of the difficulty may be related to their mental health.
Elementary and Middle School
Youth with mental health disorders are more likely to be unhappy at school, be absent, or be suspended or expelled. Their learning is negatively impacted because of poor concentration, distractibility, inability to retain information, poor peer relationships, and aggressive behavior. They also may be withdrawn and difficult to engage.
Youth in high school with mental health disorders are more likely to fail or drop out of school compared to their peers in the general population. They tend to engage in high-risk behaviors including drug and alcohol use and/or suicide attempts, especially those youth who may be significantly depressed because they are shunned or marginalized.
Fifty percent of youth in the child welfare system and sixty-seven percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder.8 Children and youth with mental health disorders in the child welfare system are
In addition, young adults leaving the child welfare system experience major mental health challenges and drug and alcohol dependence at significantly higher rates than the general population.13
Despite these numbers, for most youth, mental health distress is episodic, not permanent. With the developmental changes and challenges that youth face normally, especially in adolescence, many experience transitional phases of mood and behavioral changes. Youth and their families can successfully navigate the challenges that come from experiencing a mental health disorder. Those with more persistent mental health challenges usually do very well with treatment, peer and professional supports and services, and a family and social support network.
1 Blackorby & Cameto, 2004
2 Blackorby & Cameto, 2004
3 Blackorby, Cohorst, Garza, & Guzman 2003
4 Gall, Pagano, Desmond, Perrin, & Murphy, 2000
5 U.S. Department of Education, Report to Congress, 2009
6 U.S. Department of Education, Report to Congress, 2011
7 Government Accountability Office, 2008
8 Burns et al., 2004; Skowyra & Cocozza, 2006
9 Smithgall, Gladden, Yang, & George, 2005
10 Hurlburt et al., 2004
11 U.S. House of Representatives, 2004; Pottick, Warner, & Yoder, 2005
12 U.S. House of Representatives, 2004; Pottick, Warner, & Yoder, 2005
13 Pecora et al., 2003
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