My son turned to substances to self-treat his mental illness

Mental illness among youth is often undiagnosed and untreated, leading youth to self-medicate with substances.

By Alice

His depression and anxiety started around middle school and grew worse toward the end of his father’s battle with cancer. After my husband’s death, my son’s substance use escalated from marijuana and alcohol to prescription drugs. He struggled socially even though he had a wonderful sense of humor, intelligence and a warm heart. He showed great promise and enthusiasm for history, music and writing. Adolescence can be a harsh place for those who feel and observe more in life. His increasing anxiety and chronic depression became so debilitating he had to eventually leave school his sophomore year, suffering another bout his senior year. It was a struggle for his teachers and me to get him through to graduation.

“Like most young people, my son’s substance use was propelled by mental illness.”

The Problem

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2019, less than half of adolescents with depression received treatment. The lack of mental health treatment providers, especially for youth, leads to untreated mental illness. In addition, individuals with untreated mental illness self-medicate with substances, increasing the risk for developing addiction.

The Solution

Increase availability of and access to mental health services for youth.

Take Action


Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 supports youth mental health

Send a letter to your members of Congress thanking them for passing the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, which includes provisions to support youth mental health, a critical element of substance use prevention. It requires technical assistance and best practices for school-based mental health and substance use disorder services, reauthorizes youth mental health intervention and treatment programs, and provides support for youth suicide prevention and mental health and substance use disorder services for students in higher education.