Gratitude for Teen Mental Health

By Jamison Monroe

Gratitude can change lives. It can take us from depression and darkness into a world of possibility and light.

I’ve been in recovery for over a decade. It was only when I found a mental health treatment program that helped me see my true self that I found healing. I saw my life on all levels—mental, emotional and spiritual. This allowed me to truly heal. Gratitude was and is a powerful tool. For me, it addresses the underlying causes of my addiction. My fear of not being “enough,” my sense of isolation, my disconnection. It soothes pain. I created a treatment program for teens founded on the principles of compassion and unconditional love in order to share this gift with others. It is, in many ways, an expression of my gratitude. I have my life back. And more importantly, my life is beyond what it ever was before. Gratitude has great power.

The Art of Gratitude

I hear this sentiment echoed among my many friends and colleagues. In addition, Newport Academy Director of Experiential Learning, Tim Walsh, shares this gift with others as well. He has been in recovery since age 22. Furthermore, he notes gratitude is a crucial part of his life.

“Without gratitude, depression or frustration can dominate,” Walsh says. “It is a process. And it neutralizes negativity.” For him, this involves both the outward expression of kind words and gestures. It also takes place in the inner practices of meditation and Adventure Therapy. Time spent in nature can be powerful.

“Being outside ignites gratitude,” Walsh says. “When the light comes up, we are given a new day. Therefore, we are reminded that perspective can change everything.”

How to Cultivate Compassion

Gratitude doesn’t always come naturally to teens. The Newport Academy treatment model offers many ways to access it. Consequently, we use journaling and daily lists of what we’re grateful for. We spend time in nature. The kids do yoga and meditation on a daily basis. We also include Metta (loving-kindness) meditation. These practices facilitate a sense of connection. They challenge destructive behaviors. Therefore, it gives teens a new set of tools. These tools can regulate their emotions.

“There’s often a strong sense of isolation in mental illness and substance use disorder,” Walsh says. “Teens become introverted and closed off. They can feel hopeless. We give them the chance to be of service. They work with themselves, each other, and the group. This creates gratitude and a strong sense of belonging.”

An Evidence-Based Practice

This practice is scientifically validated. Research on gratitude by Robert Emmons, PhD, reveals that gratitude practices result in optimism. It also generates overall wellness and greater awareness. In one of Emmons’ studies, young adults who practiced a daily gratitude exercise reported higher levels of energy, determination, and positivity.

At Newport Academy, we see this in our alumni. Hence, they have made a fundamental life shift and want to give back.

“We have so many alumni who come back to speak to the kids who are in-house,” Walsh says. “They have learned that this struggle they’ve overcome is now a gift. They share this with the kids and it is profound.”

Image courtesy of Morgan Sessions via Unsplash