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updated: 12/16/2013 12:12 PM

West Suburban Mental Health Expert Says "20-Somethings" Living With Their Parents Is A Good Thing!

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  • Mitchell Weisberg M.D. Adolescent Health Expert

    Mitchell Weisberg M.D. Adolescent Health Expert
    Optimal Performance MD

Michael Breen M.D.

Chicago Mental Health Expert Says "20-Somethings" Living With Their Parents Is A Good Thing!

After hiding his mental illness all his life, at 17 Tony Bellisimo knew he had to get some help:

"I attempted suicide...several times," he says. "I would choke myself then at the last minute pull whatever I was using off my neck. I'd overdose on pills, drinking."

Bellisimo's grades plummeted. He pushed away friends fearing they'd discover his mental illness. When he wasn't depressed, he was agitated. He couldn't sleep, had a short fuse, and couldn't focus or study.

For years he successfully hid his secret from his parents, friends...and doctors.

"When I started to talk to my doctor about my depression, he'd say, 'You're just a teen-ager. You'll grow out of it. It's no big deal. A problem like mine just isn't taken seriously if you're younger."

"The medical system is failing adolescents," says Mitchell Weisberg M.D. "Their pediatricians let them go and their new doctors treat them as adults. Those physicians focus on physical diseases when the vast majority of adolescent illness is mental illness." The Riverwoods and Skokie internist and psychopharmacologist lectures medical groups on the need to overhaul "adolescent" medicine.

While primary care doctors check their blood pressures and cholesterols, the leading cause of deaths for those 15-27 is suicides and homicides.

Tony Bellisimo got help just in time, but only accidentally. His parents had heard about Dr .Weisberg's crusade to take adolescent issues more seriously and sent their son to see him.

"He confirmed that I had bipolar disease and depression," says Tony. "He just kept giving me different medications, and kept talking to me, until I finally found the medications that worked."

Now Tony is a nearly straight A-student at the University of Dubuque. His major is Sports Management, his favorite team is the Blackhawks, and his goal is to someday be the general manager of a major league sports team.

Dr. Weisberg also says "adolescence" extends well beyond the teen-age years. "We always thought brain development ended at 18," he says, "but new studies show it continues till age 30. Your 20's is just a continuation of 'adolescence'. Yet our healthcare system treats them as full-grown adults."

He says these new studies are also good news for the millions of parents whose 20-something children are still living at home. Studies show a full 36% of young adults" 18-31 still live at the chagrin of their parents. Traditionally, the trend has been blamed on declining employment, rising college enrollment, and lower marriage rates. But Dr. Weisberg says those explanations largely miss the mark.

"These kids need more time to develop emotionally...especially now when for the first time in history we're in a service and knowledge-based economy. In the past young people went into the fields and assembly lines; they were ready to leave home at 18. Now they need more time to develop the emotional and brain skills for a knowledge-based job. We stigmatize these people as 'slackers' but I think for many 20-somethings, living with their patents is a good thing."

The adolescent expert says the key is that 20-somethings extend their educations and keep growing emotionally and intellectually, often by going to a community or online college. And he has this advice for worried parents. "Your child isn't a slacker. He's evolving."

He continues, "We've let down teen-agers and twenty-somethings, both in a societal and medical sense. Their parents', and society's, expectations are completely out of line with biological reality. We have to pay more attention to what these young people truly need...and we have to adjust the formative years of 'adolescence' to a new high-tech age."

Tony Bellisimo knows that in the traditional healthcare system, he was the exception. And he knows how important that was.

"If I hadn't found the correct treatment," he says. "I wouldn't be here today."

Mitchell Weisberg M.D.'s web page is www.