Many youths are currently at a breaking point as far as their mental health right now and their need for mental services.
The pandemic has created significant ripple effects on young people. From isolation to anxiety, they’re struggling in ways that are proving to be increasingly consequential.
For parents and loved ones, it’s important to recognize potential red flags in teens so you can then work toward getting them needed mental health services.
New CDC Data Sheds Light on Teens’ Mental Well-Being
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released the findings of a representative survey of high school students during the pandemic.
Key findings from this data included:
- More than a third of high school students—37%– reported they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic. Forty-four percent said they felt persistently hopeless or sad during the past year.
- Fifty-five percent said they experienced emotional abuse by a parent or adult in the home.
- The survey found that 11% of respondents had experienced physical abuse by a parent or another adult in the home.
- Nearly 30% said a parent or another adult in their home lost a job.
The CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director said the pandemic created traumatic stressors that could continue to erode young people’s well-being. Still, it’s possible to reverse the troubling trends with the right support.
Even before the pandemic, there was an uptick in mental health problems among teens. For example, in a previous survey from the CDC, more than 1 in 3 high school students said they’d experienced persistent sadness and hopelessness in 2019. In 2019, around 1 in 6 young people reported making a suicide plan in the past year.
Red Flags in Teens
Before you can connect your teen with mental health services, you have to recognize a problem; unfortunately, it can be difficult to do so in teens. Teens are notorious for changes in mood and behavior that are considered a normal part of these developmental years, but when does this reflect something more?
Some of the possible issues that could point to psychological distress or problems with emotional health include:
- Poor school performance or missing days
- Avoiding friends or social activities
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Lack of motivation
- Sleep problems, including nightmares or insomnia
- An inability to focus on tasks
- Seeming chronically worried
- Lack of energy
- Sleeping too much
- Rapid mood changes between no energy and hyperactivity
- Self-harm includes cutting, burning, biting, picking, or hair pulling
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Unreasonable or constantly irritable behavior
- Engaging in highly risky behaviors
- Using substances including drugs or alcohol
Some of the most common types of mental disorders in teens and young people that can benefit from working with a licensed counselor include:
- Depression or a depressive disorder, including a lack of interest in activities and social isolation
- Anxiety, characterized by the worrying and constant edginess
- Bipolar disorder, with extreme highs and lows
- Substance use disorders
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Eating disorders
- A behavioral disorder like oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
Talking to Your Teen
Before you can encourage your teen to get mental health care or work with a mental health counselor, you have to have a conversation about what’s going on in their lives, which can feel uncomfortable for you.
If you are concerned about your teen, you want to talk openly and honestly with them to ensure your conversation is productive.
Be genuine when you talk to your teen, and don’t belittle what they’re feeling or going through.
Some things to remember in the conversation that may be helpful include:
- Make an analogy comparing mental well-being to physical health. Teens are already self-conscious and worried about how they’re perceived during this time, so they may worry about the stigma that could come with a mental health diagnosis or getting treatment.
- Listen and validate the experiences that your teen is willing to share with you.
- Make sure your teen recognizes it’s not their fault if they have a mental health condition.
- Be patient if they’re not immediately willing to open up. It can take time.
- Don’t be afraid to ask about suicidal thoughts. Sometimes there’s a misconception that bringing it up is going to put in the mind of a teen, but that’s not the reality. Talking about it can be helpful.
Research shows that even amid mental concerns, teens who are supported and cared for by their loved ones feel more connected and are more likely to receive treatment for their symptoms.
Finding a Mental Health Counselor for Your Teen
If you approach your teen about mental health red flags you’re seeing; it’s a good idea to have resources available for them regarding mental health services. This will make them more likely to get help from a professional.
There are many ways to connect with a licensed mental health counselor for your teen.
You can go online and find professionals who specialize in working with teens, you can ask for referrals, or you can get in touch with your insurance company to see if they have in-network providers.
When you’re choosing mental health professionals, consider the following:
- You first want to ensure they are certified by the appropriate licensure boards and have the right credentials for the type of counseling services or behavioral therapy your teen likely needs.
- When you talk to a licensed mental health counselor, you can ask more about their approach to treatment, their level of experience working with teens, and whether they have any areas they specialize in regarding mental health challenges.
- You can ask how your child’s progress will be measured and what a treatment plan might look like.
- It’s helpful to ask a mental health services provider what the outcomes have been like when they’ve treated teens with similar conditions or symptoms.
- You should also ask your teen if they have any preferences. For example, they might prefer a certain age, gender, or race to help them feel more comfortable.
- Talk to therapists about what role you and the entire family might play in the treatment process and the boundaries for confidentiality.
Some of the types of therapists that might work with your teen include:
- Psychiatrist: These are medical doctors, so they’ll have an MD after their name indicating their doctoral degree. Psychiatrists attend medical school, and in an outpatient setting, they usually focus on medication management. They might then refer patients to another type of counselor for therapy.
- Psychologists: At the doctorate level, these professionals also have Dr. before their name. All of these degrees, including Ph.D., PsyD, and EdD in psychology, require clinical field experience and other educational requirements. Many PhDs do research, but some provide therapy and work in private practice settings.
- Masters level psychologists: The training to be a master-level psychologist includes completing a graduate degree program in psychology, counseling psychology, mental health counseling, or a related field. If they are licensed, that means they’ve completed licensing requirements in the state they practice, which often involve passing state board exams and supervised clinical experience following completion of graduate programs.
- Clinical social worker: Clinical social workers are mental health practitioners who complete graduate study and meet licensure requirements. Social workers can diagnose mental disorders, offer counseling, and administer diverse therapeutic approaches. Some social workers will also have certifications based on their clinical experience or interests, like in crisis intervention. Social workers can’t prescribe medication.
- Marriage and family therapists: These practitioners can diagnose mental disorders and offer counseling and family therapy. They usually have a degree in counseling and may or may not have completed the requirements for licensure.
We often see professional counselors and therapists used interchangeably, but some differences exist. Not all counselors have the advanced training, education, and licensing to provide psychotherapy, which is talk therapy.
Licensed or certified mental health counselors can help treat family and relationship problems, low self-esteem, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, loss or grief, and behavioral problems. Most counselors focus on problems that are happening in the present and on general mental well-being.
Therapists also focus on helping clients’ well-being, but they must be licensed in the state where they practice and require more education. Therapists also usually focus on talk therapy. Talk therapy relies on verbalizing problems to help identify solutions by changing thinking. A therapist will usually work with more complex issues than counselors.
Mental Health Treatment for Teens in Southern California
Some teens feel enthusiastic about starting therapy or working with a behavioral health specialist, but others are much more reluctant and resistant. If you find that your child doesn’t seem open to therapy, avoid blaming or stigmatizing them. Sometimes it’s possible inadvertently imply they have something wrong with them when discussing mental illness symptoms.
Teens also tend to be more willing to embrace therapy or anything in their lives when they feel like they have some control over it. Teens are learning who they are and what they want, so if you can be democratic in how you approach working with a therapist, your teen may be more willing to participate.
Teens are facing soaring rates of mental issues right now, and as parents, it’s critical to be aware of this and mindful of symptoms to be proactive. Contact Hillside Horizon for Teens today by calling 855-475-0651 to learn more about mental services for teens.