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Should My Teen Start Treatment for Mental Health During the Holidays? Red Flags to Watch For

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The idea of entering teen treatment for mental health during the holidays can be tough for both kids and parents to contemplate. We all want the holiday season to be a time of fun, celebration, and togetherness for our children and for the whole family. Starting the treatment process, which brings challenges along with rewards—particularly at the beginning—doesn’t fit into a traditional image of the perfect holiday.

In addition to the valid emotional reasons, dealing with the logistics of treatment during the busy holiday season can feel overwhelming for parents. And the financial aspect of treatment can also seem daunting, especially during a time when most families spend more money than they do the rest of the year.

For all these reasons, parents often wait to research and follow up on treatment options until the holiday season is over. However, the longer a teen is allowed to suffer without professional support, the greater the risk of negative repercussions.

When the whole family is busy with work or school, it can be easy to miss the red flags that indicate a teen is struggling with their mental health. The holiday vacation offers opportunities to observe your child’s behavior and get a sense of how they’re really doing.

During the holiday season, many families spend more time together than usual, at meals and other seasonal activities. That means more chances to notice your teen’s mood and their level of optimism and excitement about the holidays and about life in general.

It’s also revealing to observe how your teen interacts with family members, and how they describe their life to someone outside their everyday circle. Overhearing their answers to relatives’ questions about school, friends, or extracurriculars can yield new information for parents.

Take advantage of this time to take your child’s mental health temperature using the following checklists:

Warning Signs to Watch for During the Holiday Vacation

Here are some red flags to watch for during the holidays that indicate a teen might be struggling.

Isolating Themselves

Self-isolating behaviors might include any of the following:

  • Sleeping very late in the morning
  • Staying plugged in for hours at a time—watching television, playing video games, scrolling social media
  • Not spending time with peers
  • Showing lack of motivation or enthusiasm for activities they used to enjoy
  • Neglecting self-care, such as showers, exercise, etc.

Changes in Behavior

These behavior changes might include one or more of the following:

  • Being defensive when asked questions
  • Resisting typical requests
  • Acting agitated or defiant
  • Seeming sullen
  • Exhibiting extreme moods

Physical Signs of Depression or Anxiety

  • Exhaustion and constant fatigue
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Stomach problems
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Headaches

The Risks of Delaying Mental Health Treatment

Often through no fault of their own, it can take some time for parents to recognize that their teen has a mental health issue that requires treatment. For one, it can be difficult to distinguish between teen angst and depression. Moreover, some teens may hide their suffering, or their mental health conditions may manifest as behavioral issues like aggression and anger. Or parents may assume that a moody teen is suffering from a temporary issue like stress during the holidays or the holiday blues.

As a result, a teen may have been suffering with a mental health issue for some time before it becomes clear that they need more support than the family is able to give. When that is the case, a delay in accessing treatment can be life threatening. Putting off teen treatment increases the risk of:

  • A mental health crisis, such as a panic attack or suicide attempt
  • Teen substance abuse, as a way to self-medicate the emotional pain of a mental health condition
  • Cutting or other self-harming behaviors
  • A visit to the emergency room for mental health
  • Escalation of trauma into long-term PTSD.

Accessing teen treatment as early as possible can prevent these dangerous consequences and keep a teen mental health disorder from becoming significantly worse.

5 Reasons Why Parents Delay Teen Treatment for Mental Health During the Holidays

Below are some of the reasons why parents question whether the holidays are the right time for getting a teen started in residential or outpatient treatment.

“I don’t want my child to be alone at this time of year.”

No parent wants their child to feel isolated and alone—at any time of year. However, one of the biggest benefits of teen treatment is that young people find a trusting community of peers who have had similar experiences. Being in treatment is often the first time that an adolescent experiences the relief of knowing that they are not alone. Surrounded by others who understand what they’re going through and who are equally committed to the healing journey, teens feel a sense of belonging and connection, despite being away from family.

“When I started bonding with the other girls is when everything just shifted. I felt like I had a big family.”
– Newport Academy alum

“They’ll start feeling better during the holidays.”

Unfortunately, more often the opposite is true. Holiday depression statistics show that depressive symptoms increase during the holidays, as do anxiety and other psychological issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 64 percent of people with a diagnosed mental health condition find that the holidays make their symptoms worse.

In fact, the holidays are generally more stressful for everyone. In a Healthline survey, 65 percent of Gen Z, 61 percent of millennials, and 62 percent of Baby Boomers experienced stress during the holidays. That means that the parents of a teen who is struggling are likely to be feeling even more stressed than usual, or dealing with their own case of the holiday blues. That makes it harder for them to address their child’s needs.

“They won’t get to do anything fun in treatment.”

Treatment for mental health during the holidays can be challenging, but it can also be fun, exciting, and fulfilling for young people. At Newport Academy, activities during the holidays include games, hikes, music-making, creative arts, and Adventure Therapy—hiking, kayaking, ropes courses, and more, according to the program location. In addition, our clients enjoy healthy holiday feasts prepared by our expert chefs, connect with family via technology, and receive presents from home.

Moreover, mindfulness and reflection are ongoing components of our programming, and this can be especially meaningful during the holidays. The daily schedule at Newport Academy includes time to focus on personal goals and positive forward movement. In addition, teens practice meditation, journaling, and guided imagery. While spending the holidays in treatment is nothing like spending them at home, it has some surprising benefits and joys.

“Treatment is too expensive.”

Many families don’t seek treatment because they don’t realize that affordable mental healthcare is an option. As recently as 20 years ago, clients were forced to pay out of pocket for mental health and substance abuse treatment. Today, many insurance payers cover outpatient and residential treatment programs. And they are much more willing to provide coverage when they know that a program offers safe, effective, and clinically driven treatment.

Newport has built collaborative relationships with a wide range of healthcare payers, and works with them to optimize the benefit coverage for families who are seeking affordable residential or outpatient treatment. Up to 100 percent of our mental health services are covered by insurance.

“We want our family to be all together during the holidays.”

Authentic connection as a family is what parents and children truly want more than anything. As Barbara Nosal, PhD, LMFT, LADC, Newport’s Chief Clinical Officer, says, “I have never met a family that, despite everything they may have gone through, didn’t want to improve their relationships.”

At Newport Academy, this work is a central component of the healing process. We utilize the groundbreaking Attachment-Based Family Therapy model to repair ruptured parent-child relationships so teens feel safe turning to their parents for love and support.

Ultimately, starting a teen in treatment for mental health during the holidays can not only transform their life, it can also transform the time families spend together, in this season and all year round. The gifts of treatment include stronger relationships, greater harmony in the family, and mutual understanding and respect between parents and children.

Beginning the Healing Journey

The truth is that there’s no perfect time to embark on the healing journey. The best time to get started is always now.

One place to begin is by researching the programs available in your region. In some cases, outpatient treatment can provide the support and structure that a teen and family need. For an adolescent who is experiencing acute mental health symptoms, residential treatment in an immersive environment is often the most effective level of care. While sending a teen away from home for treatment can be extremely difficult, it’s often the very best thing parents can do for their child and their family.

Contact us today to learn more about our assessment process, our compassionate and caring team of experts, and our specialized clinical model for adolescents. We’re here for you—during the holidays and whenever your family needs support.