We probably all know someone who suffers from a mental health issue, whether we’re aware of it or not. Sometimes we know who these people are because they openly discuss it, but oftentimes, we have no idea.

Mental illness is considered an “invisible disease” because people typically don’t talk about it or show obvious symptoms.

The World Economic Forum says the 21st century has seen a worldwide epidemic of mental health issues. Most people tend to associate depression with mental illness, and for good reason. It’s a common mental disorder and the leading cause of disabilities worldwide. Yet it’s not the top mental health concern people face today. The top spot belongs to anxiety.

About 275 million people, approximately 4 percent of the global population, suffer from anxiety disorders, according to the World Economic Forum. If trends continue, this will cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030 because of missed work, health care costs and other factors.

More than 25 percent of college students had been diagnosed with or treated by a professional for a mental health issue within a single year, according to statistics a couple years ago from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A new study last fall suggests that staggering number has gone up even more.

Other studies have shown psychological distress is 70 percent more common today than a decade ago. Recent research by the University of Michigan reveals one in seven kids under the age of 17 in the U.S. has at least one mental health condition. This all points to a growing problem that kids are struggling with. Left untreated, mental illnesses like anxiety can interfere with school, activities and family life.

It might be easy to dismiss the scope of the problem by saying kids are coddled too much and issues like anxiety and depression are part of growing up and surviving in the real world. I disagree with that. If teens and young adults are saying these are issues affecting their lives, then we need to listen.

My kids told me that their health classes in Shakopee High School talked about this issue at length, tried to remove the stigma associated with mental health, and discussed options for getting help. That’s reassuring to hear.

Over the last year, I’ve learned that a couple college students I know were diagnosed with a mental illness. I was shocked, to say the least, for several reasons. These are smart, outgoing, socially active students who have never had any past health issues. I never would have pegged them as suffering from a mental issue.

That’s why it’s invisible. There are no outward signs or changes in their grades or personalities, at least to an untrained eye like mine. At the same time, these students struggle with an illness that sometimes affects their day-to-day ability to function in college.

As a parent, this is terrifying. I have one son in college and will mostly likely see my other son move to a campus in another year and a half. Even though I do my best to foster open communication with my kids, the truth is, parents don’t always know what their kids are dealing with, especially when they’re living on their own for the first time and want to demonstrate their independence.

This is why it’s important, when we talk to kids, to ask questions without being overbearing, listen without being judgmental, and realize that mental illness is real, is a significant challenge for the next generation of adults, and issues like depression and anxiety can be devastating but are treatable.

South regional editor

Deena is the regional editor for Shakopee, Jordan, Prior Lake and Savage and is passionate about uncovering the truth. Deena also enjoys gardening, playing tennis and up-cycling furniture.

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