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It’s never easy being a teenager. Tests in school. Social pressure. Social media. Plus, all the physical changes.

Those things are “normal.”

Now layer in two years of COVID health concerns, school via computer, and not seeing your friends except on a small screen. And don’t forget racial tensions following the George Floyd murder, inflation in the cost of everything, and the war in Ukraine.

Tracy Levine, a licensed clinical social worker, says a teen told her that “I’m graduating and I’m looking at World War III.” Not good.

The name of an upcoming conference at Evanston Township High School says it all: “It’s Tough Enough: Adolescent Mental Health in Our Changing World.”

The conference is the 20th annual such event in Evanston, sponsored by the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and the school’s Naomi Ruth Cohen Institute for Mental Health Education.

The session will be held at ETHS on June 12.

Naomi Cohen’s parents, Evanstonians Larry and Marilyn Cohen, founded the Institute in memory of their daughter, who died of suicide at age 32.

Besides helping adults know how to recognize possibile mental illness in their children, the conference also aims to de-stigmatize mental illness.

Recent mass shootings, with commentators and politicians saying “he had to be mentally ill,” while perhaps correct, also can create the impression that everyone with mental illness is dangerous.

That image, says Levine, executive director of the Cohen Institute, is not only inaccurate but also counterproductive.

In fact, Levine adds, the “stigma is worse now than it was 50 years ago,” because of so much understandable attention and concern about crime.

According to the site MentalHealth.gov, “the vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else.”

The site says those with mental health problems are more likely to become victims of crime than perpetrators.

And, they may be more likely to harm themselves than others.

Suicide, the site notes, is the second leading cause of death for those 10-24.

The June 12 conference will have general overview sessions, as well as break-out meetings with experts, focusing on a variety of topics on how to understand mental illness, and what steps can be taken to help.

One of the break-out sessions will be for teenagers (ages 14-18) only.

Levine says most adolescents go through “down” times, say, after the breakup of a relationship, or a bad report card.

But if those down times seem to last forever, that’s when your child may need help.

“Does sadness go into depression?”, Levine notes.

Levine is giving suicide prevention training to the largely teenage summer work force at Evanston Parks and Recreation.

But while the upcoming conference focuses on adolescent mental health, adults can have problems too, particularly now, and can learn about themselves from the session as well.

“COVID has opened the door,” Levine says. “People who were not struggling before need help now.”

More information about the conference is available online. The fee for adults is $45, but for teens it’s free.

The conference, Levine says, “is for parents, teachers, coaches, anybody who works with or cares for teenagers.”

Plus, of course, teenagers themselves.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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