Teen Mental Health Treatment
During adolescence, hormones and social pressures collide and many teens act out in a variety of troubling ways.
Teens might become moody, angry and secretive, and they may suddenly demand extra sleep. As parents of teens know, these changes seem to appear overnight, and they can dissipate just as quickly. For some teens, however, the changes persist and become more severe with time. These teens may be struggling with mental illness.
Signs and Symptoms
Mental illness in teens is quite common. According to an article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, one child out of approximately 20 has a mental health problem such as an anxiety disorder, eating disorder, bipolar disease, depression or schizophrenia. Each mental health problem comes with its own specific set of symptoms, but in general, these signs could indicate mental illness in your teen:
- Loss of self-confidence. Teens who had previously seemed confident and sure of themselves may suddenly make disparaging comments about their skills, appearance or talents.
- Sudden changes in academic performance. Mental illness can keep teens from focusing on their studies, and they may be too distracted to complete homework. Dramatic, across-the-board grade changes could result.
- Lack of interest in activities the teen previously enjoyed. A teen who enjoyed football may refuse to attend practices or may scorn watching the sport on television.
- Sleep changes. Most teens need extra sleep, but teens with mental illness may sleep for incredibly long periods of time yet still seem tired. Conversely, some mental illnesses cause teens to stop sleeping, and they may be awake for much of the night and seem tired throughout the day.
- Dramatic weight loss or gain. Teens often struggle with body image issues, and they may turn to anorexia or bulimia to ease their pain. Some other forms of mental illness may cause teens to overeat and stop exercising, and this can lead to weight gains.
- Personality shifts. Placid teens with no history of aggression may suddenly become volatile.
In the past, parents of teens exhibiting these symptoms might have considered the changes a normal part of adolescence. They might have been encouraged to simply wait out the problems and allow the teen to work through the symptoms alone. Now, parents are encouraged to step in and help teens struggling with these sorts of mental health problems.
The risks of inaction are simply too high. For example, a study in the journal Addiction found that teens with depression were significantly more likely to develop addictions to cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. In addition to addiction, teens with mental health issues are at risk for suicide. According to an article published by Nemours, 95 percent of people who commit suicide have a psychological disorder when they commit the act.
As medical professionals became more aware of the risks of untreated mental illness in teens, they began to tailor traditional mental health treatments to meet the needs of teens. This means that parents of teens with mental illness have more treatment options available than ever before.
Mental health problems in teens can be treated in a variety of settings. Some insurance programs will cover the costs of certain types of therapies, while other insurance plans will encourage families to choose a different type of therapy for their teen.
In addition, your child’s doctor or mental health professional might have input to provide on the sort of treatment needed.
Some organizations offer inpatient programs for mental health treatment. This means that the teen lives in the facility for a specified period of time and receives help from a team of dedicated staff members that is always available. There are subtle differences between inpatient programs, however. Some programs provide care in a hospital-like setting with targeted care aimed to help a teen move through a crisis and become well enough to receive care on an outpatient basis. These programs can be quite short, providing care for a few days or weeks. Other programs offer inpatient treatment in a residential setting.
Teens with moderate forms of mental illness may not require a move to an inpatient facility. Programs that offer day hospitalization, where the teen receives intensive care during the day but returns home at night, could provide appropriate treatment. This care could be provided in either a hospital setting or a residential setting.
Some teens require even less intensive care, and they may thrive in a completely outpatient program. These teens might visit with a counselor multiple times per month, and attend more sessions with family members on a periodic basis. Teens who transition out of an inpatient program often receive this sort of outpatient care as well.
Most treatments for teen mental illness involve talk therapy and medications. This combined therapy has proven quite effective in helping teens overcome mental illness. According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, 82 percent of depressed teens improved after combination treatments were used, and the teens maintained their improved status for 36 weeks.
Teens often work on a one-on-one basis with a counselor, and these sessions may be intense for the teen. Learning how the illness works, and how the teen can control it, takes time and the therapist works as a sort of teacher and coach, guiding the teen through the process and providing feedback, as needed, to help the teen correct mistakes.
Medications are often vital in treating teen mental health issues. Some mental health problems can interfere with the way the mind works, making the teen simply incapable of learning new skills and retaining information.
While the teen is undergoing treatment for mental illness, the family is often asked to participate in treatments as well. This is the approach we follow at Newport Academy, and many other facilities offer this form of treatment as well. In these sessions, families learn:
- More about the disease, and how the disease typically progresses
- Methods they can use to support the teen through the recovery process
- How to avoid blaming or punishing the teen for behaviors caused by mental illness
- Relapse signs and symptoms, and what to do if a relapse occurs.
In some treatment programs, the family meets in sessions with the therapist and teen and they discuss issues as a group. In other treatment programs, the family members meet with the therapist alone.
In addition to participating in treatment programs, there are other things family members can do to help deal with teen mental illness. According to an article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents of all teens should create a supportive, open atmosphere in which the teen feels they can tell the parents anything. Teens who know they won’t be punished for their thoughts might be more likely to share them, and parents might gain valuable information that can help them provide yet more help to the teen. Some forms of mental illness persist for years, and the parents will need to have open lines of communication with their teens so they can assist if a relapse occurs or the teen needs additional help.
In addition, families should remember that teen mental illness is quite treatable. We provide inpatient treatment to help a teen going through a crisis, and we provide ongoing treatments to help teens avoid a crisis in the future. We rely on families to make this system work, as families often can spot signs of mental illness long before the teen is aware that the problem is occurring. Our program is also designed to help teens who have mental illness and a co-occurring problem with addiction. Teens facing both of these challenges at the same time often need specific, targeted therapies and we’re able to provide those therapies at Newport Academy.