Emily was cheerful, fun, and popular. She had a 4.6 GPA and was her high school’s valedictorian. She was accepted into her dream school and planned to go there in the fall. She was a student leader of several youth organizations and was involved in her community, working in law firms, campaigns, and government. She had loving parents and supportive friends.
Everywhere she went, authority recognized her potential, her peers respected her, and youth looked up to her. Why not? Her life seemed perfect.
But then, she tried to kill herself. And had she succeeded, the most pressing question would have been: Why would she feel the need to do something like that?
I’ll tell you why.
You see, Emily suffers from what is known as a “high-functioning depression.” On the surface, she went through her days efficiently. She was successful in her seemingly endless endeavors. Yet deep down, she felt severe despondency.
You may wonder, how can someone like Emily even have a mental illness? You don’t see her failing school, shouting at people in the streets, or going on murderous rampages. So she must be “normal,” right?
Wrong. Media often exaggerates mental illness, with television series like Gotham portraying the worst criminals locked up in Arkham Asylum, criminals so “crazy” that their actions cannot be explained by anything other than something as “foreign” and “unrelatable” as mental illness.
But in reality, those with mental illnesses are more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator. According to Mental Health Reporting, “those suffering from severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or psychosis are 2.5 times more likely to be attacked, raped, or mugged than the general population.”
You may wonder, if Emily felt herself spiraling out of control, why didn’t she seek help?
She tried, but she didn’t feel comfortable telling her parents that she needed help, and so she tried to access confidential treatment. Emily is a minor and under California law, a minor over 12 can independently consent to mental health treatment or counseling if a professional deems them mature enough to do so.
But Emily learned the hard way that there are many barriers that can prevent youth from accessing confidential treatment; mainly, that many youth and even providers don’t know the law. Liability and insurance issues, as well as a lack of appropriate funding, are also barriers.
In a perfect world, young people who are struggling would be able to talk to their parents about what they’re going through and seek treatment. But when that is not an option, it’s essential that youth like Emily can still access mental health care. In an imperfect world, teenagers need to be able to get treatment on their own. California law says they can, but in the real world many barriers remain.
This needs to change, especially when a youth is in crisis. Although we cannot reverse tragedies, we must work to prevent them.
To learn more about the rights of minors to consent to mental health or other sensitive health services visit:http://teenhealthlaw.org/consent/.
Kenna Chick is a policy intern at Young Minds Advocacy.