Conference sheds light on teen mental illnesses

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published February 18, 2015

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Only 20 percent of youth suffering from mental disorders get help in any given year.

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit  — in collaboration with a group of community partners for parents, teachers, mental health professionals, youth professionals and adults who care for teens — is raising awareness for teen mental illness with a community conference at West Bloomfield High School from 1-3:30 p.m. March 1.

The intention of the conference is to discuss teen mental illness and introduce ways for adults to communicate with struggling teens.

“So many of our kids are struggling and not able to speak to it or not able to necessarily access the resources that they need,” said Wren Hack, chair for the conference.

Ross Szabo, CEO of the Human Power Project in Los Angeles, will discuss his personal experience with teen mental illness and how families and teens are affected by mental illnesses.

Szabo was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with anger control problems and psychotic features when he was 16 years old. After attempting to commit suicide his senior year of high school, he was hospitalized. While in college, he took a leave of absence due to a relapse with bipolar disorder.

“I was in and out of college and treatment and had severe, severe alcohol abuse for the next five years until I could find a way to start working on the problem,” said Szabo, adding that he experienced the worst effects from ages 16-22.

Szabo ran the national mental health awareness campaign from 2002-10, and he served in the U.S. Peace Corps from 2010-12. Upon returning in 2013, he realized that for almost his entire life, he had been raising awareness for mental health issues, and the next step was introducing a mental health curriculum.

“Sometimes when people hear the word ‘mental health’ it’s just for people who have diagnosed problems. But mental health is something we all have,” Szabo said.

Szabo said teens are told to focus on their physical health, but people should be thinking about their mental health as well as their physical health.

“We only talk about mental health when we’re reacting to a crisis, instead of being proactive and preventative,” he said.

Following Szabo’s talk, a panel of mental health professionals will discuss depression, addiction, eating disorders, crisis intervention and therapies.

Dr. Melissa Oleshansky, a licensed clinical health psychologist, said she will talk about behavioral mental health and how it relates to adolescents, along with how parents should address teen mental health disorders — anxiety, mood disorders, panic attacks, social anxiety and major depression.

“I think that in this day and age, all kids experience some sort of social criticism … and all of that can trigger a diagnosis of a mental health disorder. If parents are aware of certain signs to look for, it may help to minimize their kid’s exposure to developing (symptoms).”

Oleshansky, of West Bloomfield, said parents should watch out for the following key signs:

• Isolation.
• Significant weight change.
• A change in clothing style.
• A change in physical appearance.
• Different hair color.

“I actually think it’s tougher to be a kid this day and age, and mostly because of technology,” Oleshansky said, referring to social media sites and cyberbullying. “That is the precursor for why, I think, people or young adults feel negative about themselves. There’s so much social judgement.”

One of the biggest issues Oleshansky sees in her office is social anxiety, which she attributes to teens texting, instant messaging and using messaging applications like Snapchat instead of talking to each other. Teens now lack social skills to even make presentations in school, she said.

“Social relationships these days are mostly online somehow,” she said.

Following the panel discussion, mental health and service organizations will have resource books available that contain information about care, treatment options and national resources.

The program is open to the public. West Bloomfield High School is located at 4925 Orchard Lake Road in West Bloomfield.

Pre-registration is a $5 donation to Common Ground — a Michigan-based, 24-hour crisis service — or a $10 donation at the door. To register, visit www.jewishdetroit.org/events.