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Feelings Mental Health Self-Care Wellness

Adopting Positive Thoughts for a Healthy Mind

The power of positive thinking and positive thoughts is more than a mere joke. The way we approach life and our mindset during any given set of circumstances can contribute to positive outcomes. They also play a great role in our perception of life. In other words, convincing yourself of a positive interpretation of your current day-to-day circumstances can both help you be happier and lead to better, more positive outcomes.

Is it any different from lying to yourself? Yes, it is. Positive thoughts are not about trying to make up a different reality from the one you currently occupy, but rather, they are meant to help spurn us towards investing in constructive coping skills, becoming more adept at dealing with our surroundings, and building a greater level of resilience against stressors.

Positive thoughts are not about dissociating from certain struggles or the negative aspects of life but about regaining control over the things we can change, eliminating negative thoughts that contribute to maladaptive coping, and building a healthy support network for tough times.

Positive and Negative Thinking

Not all thoughts are necessarily positive or negative. Making a statement in your head about needing to remind yourself to grab some orange juice in the near future does not fit into the dichotomy of “good” and “bad” thoughts. Neither is it healthy to try and categorize every thought you have.

In most cases, positive and negative thoughts are more about learning to identify with the signs and symptoms of a low mood, or poor emotional state, and turning them around through self-care, support, and affirmations.

A pattern of negative thoughts may hint at a depressive episode or may be more common in people with a history of depression and other mental health issues. Meanwhile, positive thoughts can have a positive impact on these mental health issues and remain a central tenet in the practice of cognitive behavioral therapy, the most common type of talk therapy for addressing conditions like major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder GAD.

Some common forms of negative thinking include:

  • Focusing entirely on negative outcomes and aspects of your life.
  • Blaming yourself for every bad outcome.
  • Spiraling thoughts (losing control of your thoughts, ruminating on negative thoughts).
  • Automatically anticipating the worst.
  • Constantly telling yourself you “should” do something, then blaming yourself when you don’t.
  • Maintaining impossible standards, effectively setting yourself up for failure.
  • Seeing everything as good or bad (and often more bad than good).

On the other hand, some common forms of positive thinking include:

  • Taking time for self-reflection and thoughts of gratitude.
  • Re-evaluating the last few weeks to identify good things or things you’re proud of.
  • Engaging in humor often, laughing more, seeking out comedies in life.
  • healthier lifestyle – better sleep, good food, regular exercise, frequent water breaks.
  • A more positive inner circle of friends and family, working to eliminate toxic relationships.
  • Frequently uttering affirmations or personal mantras.

Some of these “thoughts” constitute as behaviors, but it’s often a very cyclical relationship – positive thoughts help foster positive actions towards yourself, whereas negative thoughts lead to negative spirals.

Some affirmations work better for certain people than others. You might not be the type to stand in front of a mirror and psych yourself up with niceties. Perhaps you’re more the type to find a quiet corner, ball your fists, and recite a positive, life-affirming mantra. Or perhaps you do your best positive thinking while on a jog or a walk through the woods.

Associating certain behaviors with positive thoughts and vice versa can help you work towards converting your negative thoughts into healthier, self-affirming positive ones. It’s a long process, but it starts with just a single simple step in the right direction.

The Physical Benefits of Positive Thoughts

The benefits of more positive thinking extend beyond improving mood and mental states. Your mental and physical well-being is intertwined, and a positive mindset can contribute to better overall physical health. Studies show a strong correlation between a positive mindset and:

  • Greater longevity
  • Lowered rates of anxiety and depression
  • Higher pain threshold and lower reported levels of pain
  • Greater resistance to physical illness
  • Reduced cancer death risk
  • Reduced heart disease death risk
  • Improved cardiovascular health
  • And more.

How can a positive mindset reduce the risk of death from something like cancer? Or reduce pain? Well, it’s complicated. We have to make it clear that promoting “mind-over-matter” thought is neither ethical nor scientifically accurate – you cannot will yourself out of a heart attack.

However, positive thinking can negate or reduce negative thinking, which can exacerbate worse health outcomes at the hand of many of these illnesses. Similarly, low mood and depression can actively inhibit your pain resistance, causing unexplained pains and raising your sensitivity to the slightest discomfort.

Furthermore, a positive mindset correlates with a healthier lifestyle and lower risk of death, as well as greater longevity. Positive thinking also contributes to better coping skills against daily stressors, reducing the impact of both chronic stress and acute stress on the mind and body alike.

The Importance of a Support Network

Affirmative thinking can help you negate negative thoughts and reinforce healthier behaviors. But positive thinking alone won’t always be enough. It’s important to have a number of people you can rely on to help lift your spirits or be there for you when times are tough.

A strong support network is not just central for mental health recovery or treatment. We all need people we can rely on, whether they’re friends, family, or a bit of both.

Seeking Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Positive thinking can go a long way towards helping you improve your mental and physical health. But it is no substitute for guided therapy or the help of a mental health professional. If you feel you need help and don’t know where to look, seek the services of a therapist.

Therapists are trained to utilize talk therapy methods, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, to help patients identify self-destructive habits and thought patterns and replace them over time.

professional therapist can help you adjust your coping skills, pick up better habits, and develop a better toolkit for long-term mental health.

Improve Your Mental Health at Visions Treatment Centers

Are you or someone you know looking to improve their mental health? Then visit us online at Visions Treatment Centers. You may also contact us directly through our online form or get in touch with us by phone.

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Communication Family Mental Health Parenting Transparency

Mental Health Literacy: A Convo Guide for Parents

Finding ways to help their child is every parent’s top priority – but mental health topics can be difficult conversation starters. How do you approach a teen’s recent behavior without shutting them down? How can you safely lead the conversation in the direction of help and understanding without seeming overbearing, condescending, or controlling? In what ways can an understanding of mental health literacy assist parents lead such conversations?

Picking the Right Time

The first step, in every case, is to pick the right time. Teens are naturally emotional, regardless of temperament or personality. There’s a lot going on during adolescence, and it can be difficult to unpack it all. Picking the right time to address your worries can help defuse a potentially difficult situation. That means waiting for a good day, avoiding ambushes, and maybe finding an opportunity to talk to your teen in private (in their room, while doing chores together at home, on the ride back from school, etc.).

Once you’ve found the right time, it’s important to pick the right conversation opener. Fumbling your opportunity to discuss your concerns can keep your kid on guard for the rest of the week or longer. No matter how conflicted you might feel, remember to focus on what’s important: your goal is to help your teen, not judge them.

Starting the Conversation

To start things off, research goes a long way. Learning about mental health issues on your own time, understanding mental health literacy, and speaking with mental health professionals can give you a better understanding of what your teen might be going through, and differentiate between regular teenage problems and the signs of a more serious mental health issue.

Approach the Topic Naturally and with Observations

If you feel that your teen is going through something they need help with, approaching the topic naturally is important. Begin with observations. Obviously, you’ve noticed something. Bring up what you’ve noticed, and why it concerns you. Then, listen.

Some teens might feel relieved that their parents picked up on what’s going on. Others might be worried that they’re being judged or alienated from the rest of the family. It’s important to make sure your teen understands that your concern for them comes from a place of love and inclusion, and that they’re free to say what’s truly on their mind.

Don’t be Afraid to Say Something

If you’ve done prior research, don’t be afraid to bring it up. You don’t need to help confirm your teen’s self-diagnosis or make a judgment call of your own – diagnostic work is best left to experienced psychiatrists. But showing that you’ve moved on from concern to action might help your teen realize that you’re invested in helping them, and want to understand how they feel. It can be comforting to know that you’re open-minded and on their side.

Learning to Listen

There are important dos and don’ts to keep the conversation going once your teen is open to discussing how they feel with you. These include:

  • DO give your teen the time to finish their sentences, and don’t interrupt or stop them.
  • DO normalize how they feel, letting them know that you’ve read about many other teens feeling the same way and that there are ways to get help.
  • DO keep their information confidential – if your teen has only told you, don’t go on discussing it with other members of the family without first bringing it up with your teen, let alone a mental health professional (unless their situation and behavior are life-threatening).
  • DO acknowledge your own fear and anxieties in these situations. It doesn’t help to bottle your feelings up because you’re scared of affecting your teen.
  • DO continue to learn about what your teen is going through, even after they’ve started therapy (especially after they’ve started therapy!).
  • DON’T minimize how they feel or tell them that they “shouldn’t feel this way”, or that you “know exactly” how they feel without having previously been diagnosed with the same condition and the same circumstances.
  • DON’T feed excuses or blame other people. It’s always tempting to find something to blame, but no case of a mental disorder can be squarely blamed on a single factor. It’s almost always a convalescence of complex internal and external factors, melding together in an unfortunate way. Instead of directing your anger at something, use it to help your teen get better.
  • DON’T compare your teen to their siblings or ask them why they couldn’t have been more like your other kids.

Mental Health Literacy: Recognizing Mental Health Issues

Teen temperament can feel disjointed or confusing, so it’s important to separate “normal” teen behavior from potential red flags for a mental health issue. Some things to keep in mind include:

Is it Consistent?

Consistency is important. If your teen’s mood has been consistently low for several weeks now, chances are it’s more than just a rough patch for them. Conditions like depression can affect the way we perceive things around us, actively inhibiting the ability to feel joy or pleasure.

If your teen hasn’t talked about their favorite hobbies in weeks, hasn’t hung out with friends in a while, and generally hasn’t laughed or been in a good mood for a noticeable period, they may be going through more than just a period of grief.

Has Academic Performance Changed?

Academic performance may be a helpful metric but shouldn’t be the absolute focus here. How well your teen is retaining information and focusing on their studies can be affected by the onset and growth of a mental health issue, but there are dozens of other factors that can affect a teen’s grades without necessarily affecting their mental health.

Furthermore, while your teen’s grades might be important to you (and them!), focusing on them might make your teen feel that your priorities are misplaced (i.e., putting their grades above the way they feel).

Nervous vs. Anxious

Nervousness is one thing, especially if your teen has been rather skittish since early childhood. But anxiety symptoms are something else. If your teen seems constantly worried about the same things, is having trouble concentrating or focusing on anything, easily loses their cool, and struggles to perform under pressure – whether it’s during a driving lesson or a breakdown during school exams – they may be overly sensitive to their surrounding stressors, or worse.

Anxiety disorders are the most common kind of mental health issue worldwide, ranging from complex disorders like OCD to a generalized feeling of worry and dread that affects a person’s mood, personality, and behavior on a daily basis.

Susceptibility to Addictive Behavior and Long-Term Substance Abuse

Teens are smart, often smarter than we might give them credit for. But they still make mistakes, lack experience, and are usually more short-sighted than adults through no fault of their own. This is part of the reason why teens are more susceptible to addictive behavior, and why early onset of addiction usually predicts long-term or life-long substance abuse.

If you suspect that your teen is struggling due to an ongoing substance problem – whether it’s frequent drinking binges with friends or sharing prescription pills at school – keep an eye out for some of the more obvious signs, including hidden stashes, physical symptoms (bloodshot eyes, constantly tired, slurred speech, frequent hangovers), and mental symptoms (irritability, memory problems, altered behavior, becoming defensive).

Issues with Eating

Eating disorders also disproportionately affect adolescents and are some of the most dangerous mental health disorders we know of. Signs of an eating disorder include constant cycles of self-deprecation and shame, followed by binge eating, signs of binge eating such as wrappers and hidden stashes of food, frequent bathroom breaks between and during meals, diuretic or laxative drugs, and calluses on the index knuckle from induced vomiting.

When Is Professional Help Needed?

In general, the moment you no longer know how to help your teen is the moment you should consider approaching a mental health professional for help – even if it isn’t to schedule an appointment for your child or figure out an intervention. Mental health professionals also work to assist parents in understanding what might be going on in their teen’s lives, and helping them navigate their way around a conversation with their child.

If your teen approaches you about therapy, then they’ve thought it over and likely made the decision to seek help – with your assistance. Work with them to find a mental health professional they are comfortable with. First and foremost, their comfort is paramount. Trust is an important aspect of therapy, and teens will be unlikely to get the help they need if they cannot set up a strong bond with their therapist.

If your teen is struggling with a mental health issue, reach out to Visions Treatment Centers. Let’s start the conversation together.

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Mental Health Recovery School Therapy

Teen Academic Support During Therapy

In both inpatient and outpatient cases, teens undergoing treatment for a psychiatric condition will face daily challenges and undergo a long-term transformation. Yet, in inpatient treatment cases, teens will often be asked to leave behind their friends, school, and family to spend time in a completely different setting, whether for just a few weeks or several months. And while this is happening, it’s natural to ponder about continuing academia or teen academic support during therapy.

This can be a reason for some teens to reconsider or worry about the implications of mental health treatment. Is it worth putting everything on hold to “get better”? And what if it doesn’t work?

Not Being Left Behind

Life is challenging as it is – juggling relationships, family, and school responsibilities can be daunting, and for many teens, seeking help might mean having to forego some of these responsibilities. Teens don’t want to be left behind, whether it’s academically or socially.

Assuaging these fears is important. And this is why academic support is crucial.

A New Setting Can be Overwhelming

Residential treatment centers usually entail taking a teen out of their usual environment and putting them in a completely new setting, with new peers, new therapists, and different faces. This can be overwhelming – but it’s not all new. Teens in residential therapy will still have school responsibilities, they will still have teachers, they will still have lessons and curriculums, and they will still have peers to talk to.

Consistency is Key

Having these elements stay consistent in a teen’s life, both within and outside the context of therapy, is important. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and even psychosis can thrive in chaos and confusion. Consistent schedules, ongoing responsibilities, and opportunities for self-improvement can help teens focus on the day-to-day task at hand, avoid rumination, and build up their self-esteem – while keeping them on an equal playing field with their friends and peers back in school.

Should Teens in School Go into Treatment?

This is a trick question – mental health treatment needs to be made available to everyone who needs it and wants it, and everyone who needs or wants it should be able to confidently seek help from a mental health professional and get a treatment plan tailored to their circumstances and symptoms.

Teens are no exception, and in fact, adolescence is one of the most important periods to tackle mental health issues, as it provides greater opportunities for therapists and mental health professionals to impart the importance of healthy coping skills, and help teens tackle their symptoms before they grow worse in adulthood or lead to co-dependent health issues later in life.

However, treatment for teens needs to take their circumstances into account just as much as it does for adults. Adults who cannot afford to leave work won’t be able to consider residential treatment as an option, for example.

Teen Residential Treatment and Therapeutic Day School

In the case of teen treatment, residential treatment can be made possible through a robust and accredited academic program that continues to instruct teens as per state- or school-specific curriculum, offering them the opportunity to keep up with their peers while seeking help for their symptoms.

It’s still work. Teens in treatment will be expected to show up to lessons, do homework, and prepare for exams – all while continuing to attend treatment sessions, both individually and in groups, and participating in group activities. Preparing for your SATs or college application deadlines while going to therapy for a dual diagnosis can be tough.

But a day school in a residential treatment facility sets itself apart from a regular day-to-day classroom in that teens in treatment can seek individualized tutoring and may be better able to learn within the setting of a residential treatment clinic versus a conventional classroom.

Synergizing Academic Achievement and Mental Health Treatment

Meanwhile, there is synergy between promoting academic achievement and the mental health treatment process. Just as doing better mentally can help you study, an individually tailored academic program can help you feel better mentally.

Some teens don’t respond well to the typical structure of a school day or haven’t managed to find a way to study that suits them, especially if they’re struggling with the symptoms of a neurobehavioral disorder like ADHD.

Individualized Support and Education

Individualized support in the form of a day school at a residential treatment center can help teens balance studying with their mental health, improve their ability to cope with stressors while retaining information, and find alternative ways to prepare for tests and learn without the pressure and classroom setting of a normal school. Furthermore, day school programs help teens ensure that they aren’t left behind while in therapy and synergize treatment with a teen’s day-to-day academic responsibilities.

Helping teens improve their responses to stressors and prepare for the challenges that lie ahead are important parts of therapy. Some teens are too afraid to speak up about their depressive feelings or anxiety symptoms because they don’t want these things to jeopardize their chances at college, affect their relationships, or be a burden on their grades. But they are – if left untreated.

Teens with mental health issues have a much harder time retaining information and doing well at school – and these issues can continue to be exacerbated later in adulthood.

Furthermore, adolescence is a crucial chapter in the rest of a teen’s life – academic performance can have an impact on career options and college opportunities. Helping teens improve their grades through residential treatment serves as a major boon for the rest of their lives.

Choosing a Residential Treatment Clinic

Residential treatment centers differ in the modalities they offer and the facilities they have. Not all residential treatment clinics offer a day school and teen academic support programs for teens. When choosing a treatment clinic for yourself or your loved one, choose one with an accredited academic program and a reputation for helping teens continue their studies while in treatment.

A residential or inpatient treatment clinic is often just the first step in a longer journey. In many cases, mental health isn’t about curing a defect, but about learning to cope with one’s unique circumstances, and living a full and happy life in spite of the challenges one faces.

Teen Academic Support During Therapy at Visions Treatment Centers

If you or your teen is considering entering into residential treatment but worried about falling behind in academics, contact us today.

At Visions Treatment Centers, we offer Day School for teen academic support while receiving therapy. With a consistent schedule and custom-made curriculum plan, you or your teen will get the professional help they need while maintaining grades, social activities, and more.

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Mental Health Trauma

7 Signs of Trauma in Teens (And how to cope)

Traumatic experiences can alter a person’s psyche dramatically, weighing on them both consciously and subconsciously, and changing their decision making, their thought processes, and their behavior. These changes can alter personalities and continue to affect a person even long after they’ve “made peace” with the past. And like adults, teens can also experience trauma or a trauma disorder too. But what are the signs of trauma in teens? How are these signs recognized? And how does one cope?

In teens especially, trauma can lead to emotional and psychological maladjustment, presenting difficulties in achieving independence in adulthood, communicating with others, retaining and understanding information, and engaging with people socially.

To understand why and how trauma can affect teens, we need to understand the effect trauma has on the brain, and why treatment can be difficult.

What is Teen Trauma?

Traumatic experiences are subjective, meaning an event that traumatizes one person might not necessarily traumatize the other, even if they were both present that day.

But nearly all traumatic experiences are characterized by their shock and horror – usually, events involving mass death, abuse, violence, cruelty, long-term neglect, or forces of nature. Trauma may be caused by an acute event or a period of horror.

When trauma occurs, the mind is affected in a way that isn’t typical of stressful situations. We are equipped to deal with stress, and we learn through both negative and positive reinforcement. But there’s a difference between “one of life’s lessons” and an event so impactful that it leaves an unwanted mark on our way of thinking for years to come. The latter is a traumatic event. Trauma is characterized by intrusive thoughts and emotions, changes in mood and cognition, jumbled or lost memories, and more.

Teens experience trauma similarly to adults, with a few key differences. The biggest is a greater tendency towards impulsive, risk-taking, self-destructive, and violent behaviors. Teens are more likely than adults to turn towards self-harm, dangerous sexual behavior, and drug use after a traumatic event.

Now, let’s look at some of the signs of trauma in teens and their effects.

Recognizing Signs of Trauma in Teens

Psychologically, trauma is understood as an open and unhealing wound in the mind. The mind may respond in a few different ways, which brings us to the telltale signs of post-traumatic stress. These include:

  • Hyperarousal/hypervigilance, such as overreacting emotionally and physically to certain stimuli, like unexpected touch or a loud noise.
  • Depersonalization/dissociation, such as remembering trauma as something that happened to someone else, or completely forgetting/burying the event.
  • Extreme avoidance of potential triggers.
  • Development of phobias, or extreme fears related to the event.
  • Unwanted or intrusive thoughts, including memories or flashbacks, panic attacks, and frightening thoughts.
  • Changes in mood and cognition, including memory problems, having a harder time retaining information, not enjoying things as much as before, being more depressed, feeling down more often for no discernable reason, and a more negative worldview.
  • Irritability and aggressive thoughts/behaviorespecially in teens.

1. Hyperarousal

Hyperarousal is one of the primary symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Hyperarousal can be recognized through constant overarching anxiety, always being “on edge”, being easily startled, bouts of insomnia, and an elevated fight-or-flight response.

2. Dissociation

Dissociation and its similar symptoms usually involve some sort of distortion in the perception of a traumatic event to avoid the pain associated with it, whether by forgetting it completely, only remembering vague memories, or associating it with someone else.

A teen who is dissociating from their trauma is still heavily affected by it, and may experience hyperarousal and hypervigilance, as well as strong anxiety symptoms.

3. Avoidance

Avoidance is a normal response to something awful, but avoidance symptoms in the context of trauma may go to extreme lengths, such as never stepping foot inside an elevator again, avoiding cars for years, or developing maladaptive coping mechanisms to avoid and forget, including binge drinking and other forms of drug use.

4. Phobias and Panic

Trauma can lead to the development of phobias and frequent unexplained panic attacks. These may include a phobia of crowds, a phobia of certain animals, or even a phobia of men.

In contrast to other fear or anxiety-based symptoms, phobias represent an overwhelming, constantly present fear, to the point the thought of the danger can cause panic even when the danger itself isn’t present.

5. Intrusive Thoughts

Unwanted and intrusive thoughts can range from flashbacks to violent or unwanted fantasies, morbid thoughts, and frequent unwanted thoughts or daydreaming about violence, violent circumstances, and so on. These thoughts are oppressive and difficult to overcome. They can fuel maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as drinking, as a way to block them out.  

6. Mood and Cognition

Signs of trauma can be recognized in a teen’s mood and way of thinking after a traumatic event. Trauma can leave a person feeling less enthusiastic about things they used to enjoy, even to the point of anhedonia, or joylessness.

It can also impact a person’s cognitive and creative abilities, slowing them down, affecting memory and critical thinking, and making them less sure of themselves.

7. Aggression, Risk-Taking, and Self-Harm

In teens, trauma will more often accentuate impulsive feelings and feelings of self-harm or shame, and resulting behavioral changes, such as more risk-taking, greater promiscuity, higher likelihood of frequent substance use, and self-destructive or self-harming behavior.

Coping With Teen Trauma

Stress disorders, or post-traumatic stress, as well as other anxiety disorders, may develop because of a traumatic experience. Teens can still function relatively well after trauma but may develop greater signs of mental instability the longer their trauma goes unaddressed.

This is especially true if they begin to seek maladaptive ways to cope with their post-traumatic stress, such as addictive substance use or self-harm.

Healthy coping mechanisms are one of the most important aspects of a good treatment plan for a trauma disorder, including creative endeavors, support groups, family or friend group therapy sessions, sports, and self-care. These coping skills help teens reduce stress levels, manage their stress after traumatic triggers, and help avoid or ignore intrusive thoughts.

Mental Health Treatment for Trauma

Mental health treatment remains the crux of any teen trauma treatment plan. Professional one-on-one or group therapy is the first line of treatment for trauma disorders, helping teens identify and overcome negative and unwanted thoughts associated with their trauma. Trauma-specific therapeutic interventions include:

  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
  • Cognitive processing therapy
  • Prolonged exposure therapy
  • Somatic therapy
  • And more.

Working with a therapist you can trust is important. Trauma disorders are disabling and difficult to overcome. The road ahead may be quite long. It’s important to establish a strong bond with your therapist of choice.

Trauma Disorder Treatment at Visions Treatment Centers

Is your teen struggling with trauma? Reach out to Visions Treatment Centers today. We can help.

Categories
ADHD Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health Substance Abuse

4 Sneaky Mental Illnesses in Teens to Watch Out For

Mental illnesses in teens can be a complicated topic for parents, especially if they have no personal experience with mental disorders. Recognizing and separating symptoms of a mental disorder from regular teenage behavior can be difficult, because many mental health symptoms are subtle, and begin in ways that can be misconstrued as normal teenage behavior.

Nevertheless, recognizing and identifying these symptoms is important. Teens themselves may lack the awareness or the experience to identify their feelings as troublesome and might instead internalize their symptoms as being their own fault.

This guilt can feed and accelerate feelings of anxiety, depression, or other symptoms, and can make treatment more difficult over time. Pressure at home or at school, a history of victimization, or mental health stigma in the community can complicate things even further, making teens less likely to seek help or consider asking for it.

Mental Illnesses in Teens Have Gone Up

The rates at which mental illnesses in teens have also gone up over time. Some of it may stem from awareness, or from societal factors, such as environmental concerns, greater academic pressure, and a poor economic outlook. But by and large, teen stressors are the same as they have always been: relationship problems, grades, fitting in, family environment, and trauma.

Let’s look at a few common yet sneaky mental illnesses that may affect your teen and how to identify them.

1. Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia is a growing issue with the prevalence of social media and doctored Instagram posts, even amid waves of body positivity and messages about self-acceptance.

Also dubbed body dysmorphic disorder, this mental health condition is characterized by an untrue self-image. It isn’t just that a teen with BDD does not like the way they look – in their eyes, they look completely different than what they might look like to others. A teen with BDD might starve themselves or work out excessively to try and conform to their ideal, unattainable self-image. Teens with body dysmorphia may also abuse substances to suppress their appetite or achieve a different figure, such as using anabolic steroids to build muscle quickly. Signs and symptoms of BDD include:

  • An excessive and extreme focus on physical appearance and repeated negative comments about their self-image.
  • Spending inordinate amounts of time checking and rechecking their appearance.
  • Hiding away from others or hiding their body with loose-fitting clothes and baggy clothing.
  • Not listening to affirmations from others, ignoring praise about their physical appearance/continuing to lament their appearance as ugly.

2. Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are often adjacent to body dysmorphia but are characterized primarily by an unhealthy relationship with food. Eating disorders are usually diagnosed as either binge eating disorderanorexiabulimiaavoidant restrictive food intake disorder, other specified eating disorders, or unspecified eating disorders.

Binge eating Disorder 

Binge eating disorder is characterized by a cycle of emotional lows and depressive symptoms culminating in an unhealthy binge eating session, leading to another cycle of low mood. Teens who are binge eating may hide their binges, keep food in their room, or store chocolate bars and snacks in their drawers.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is a disorder characterized by excessively restrictive calorie counting and starvation, including severe body image issues, such as seeing oneself as fat despite being dangerously underweight. Therefore, anorexia can be a life-threatening condition.

Bulima Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a cycle of self-starvation, binging, and purging behavior (through laxatives or self-induced vomiting). Frequent vomiting can also cause throat and dental damage, as well as create callouses on a teen’s index and middle finger knuckles.

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder

Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder is characterized by an unhealthily restrictive food intake. Teens with avoidant restrictive food intake are incredibly picky about what they eat, to the point that it causes dramatic weight loss and physical health problems. These problems are progressive, meaning the list of acceptable foods becomes smaller over time. Teens with avoidant restrictive food intake are not necessarily worried about body image, but may be worried about choking on their food, or react nauseously to normal foods for no discernable reason. Choosing to cut out certain foods for health or moral reasons (such as a keto diet or veganism) is not a disorder.

Other Specific or Unspecified Eating Disorders

Other specific or unspecified eating disorders may be applied as a label to teens with disordered eating habits that do not yet fit an established profile, fit into multiple disorders at once, or in cases where more information is needed to determine a teen’s condition.

Eating disorders need to be addressed professionally. They can be life-threatening and can cause lasting physical harm.

3. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a well-known condition in children and teens, but it can present itself in subtle ways that often evade diagnosis for years. Teens learn to cope with their ADHD symptoms over time, continuing to mask them well into adulthood.

However, untreated ADHD can be a great risk to teens because it is often associated with a much higher risk of comorbid mental health problems, including depression and substance use disorder.

One of the primary symptoms of teen ADHD is recurring disorganization. Being disorganized or clumsy is not just a personality trait – if your teen is consistently bad with time management, constantly misplaces their belongings, dodges, or misses deadlines all the time, and is actively anxious about these things (i.e., they are worried, and trying, but their behavior does not change), they may be struggling with ADHD.

Executive functioning problems are another common sign of ADHD in teens. Executive functioning refers to the ability to utilize one’s working memory, flexibility, and self-control to go about their life, including making and coordinating schedules and plans, prioritizing tasks effectively, demonstrating emotional control, effective self-monitoring, focusing on a task at a time, and being flexible about schedule changes.

Teens with ADHD can still learn to develop and hone these skills, but they may have a harder time doing so than their peers. Executive functioning can also be impacted by other problems, such as depression, abuse, or trauma.

4. Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder is another term for addiction. Addiction in teens may occur as a result of comorbid conditions, such as an anxiety disorder, PTSD, or depression, or as a result of a combination of environmental factors (socioeconomics, trouble at home, parental disconnect) and inner factors (genetics, family history, addiction at home).

Signs of a substance use disorder in teens can vary. Drug paraphernalia is one common sign, from hidden bongs to a bottle of vodka under the bed. Consistently coming home too late, coming home drunk or high multiple times, and experiencing physical symptoms of recurring drug use – from bloodshot eyes to memory loss – are also important signs.

When To Get Help

Mental illnesses in teens are treatable, and regardless of what your teen is going through, the first step of that treatment is compassion. Help your teen understand that you are in their corner and want them to feel better. They need to internalize that your goal isn’t to punish them, but to help.

In some cases, it can be difficult to convince your teen that you’re on their side. Some conditions make it harder to help teens get help than others, including addiction, personality disorders, and conduct disorders. Working with a mental health professional beforehand can help you come up with the best way to intervene on your teen’s behalf and get them to see things your way.

For more information, contact Visions Treatment Centers today.

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Experiential Therapy Mental Health Treatment

How Can Experiential Therapy Activities for Teens Help?

When people bring up therapy, they’re usually talking about talk therapy or psychotherapy – these are treatment methods that involve discussing certain actions, thoughts, and emotions with a trained professional, and relying on healthy argumentation and dialogue to develop a better understanding of one’s own thoughts and emotions, as well as the effects of a mental health issueBut, experiential therapy is something different altogether.

While still a therapeutic treatment for mental health problems, experiential therapy combines dialogue with action, using immersive experiences to help patients overcome unhealthy coping mechanisms, shed their anxieties and worries, and get to the emotional core of their condition or problem.

What is Experiential Therapy?

Experiential therapy is like talk therapy, but adds action to the treatment process, involving patients in immersive therapeutic environments to help them become more introspective, and achieve a greater therapeutic effect.

The thesis of experiential therapy relies on the idea that actions help reinforce our thoughts and emotions just as much, or even more than words. Rather than confronting negative thinking in dialogue, experiential therapy aims to bring out and expose unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns through roleplaying, psychodrama, music, and other forms of art and public or personal self-expression.

The Difference

The difference is more than semantic – there is a clinical and philosophical core to experiential therapy that sets it apart from other types of talk therapy, and allows it to become an important tool in the repertoire of different therapists and mental health clinics. That core is characterized by the idea that some people are better at introspection than others.

Talk therapy forms like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are so successful because they help patients identify and argue against thoughts and feelings that originate with or are perpetuated by their mental health problems.

In doing so, they can embrace a healthier thought process that allows them to dull the blow of a depressive or anxious episode, or work against symptoms of their diagnosis. In tandem with medication, family support, and lifestyle changes, therapy helps patients take back control over the way they feel and improves their overall quality of life.

But patients who struggle to look inward and might not have the innate introspective abilities needed to apply lessons in therapy may struggle to progress with traditional forms of talk therapy, such as CBT and DBT.

Infusing Active Experiences with the Therapeutic Process

Experiential therapy takes this conclusion and incorporates active experiences into the therapeutic process to unlock a person’s introspective capabilities and help them translate lessons from therapy into their day-to-day thinking.

It’s not just about introspection. Experiential therapy also taps into the human mind’s innate abilities to translate, recontextualize, and re-experience trauma and joy through wordless actions.

While some of us are able to work through our thoughts and emotions purely through language, whether in our mind, in dialogue, or on paper through journaling, words alone aren’t always enough to explore our emotions, or we might lack the words needed to truly express ourselves. Experiential therapy helps tap into something more primordial, something more accessible than language.

Different Types of Experiential Therapy

Experiential therapy does not come with strict guidelines as to categorization and type. But most forms can generally be categorized into one of the following types:

Art-Based Therapy

Art therapy refers to an experiential setting where patients are encouraged to use different artistic processes to work through inner conflicts, such as painting, sketching, drawing, or sculpting.

Outdoor Therapy

Outdoor therapy utilizes wilderness excursions, hikes, and adventurous activities with therapy sessions, helping patients break through emotional barriers in the therapeutically conducive environments of nature.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy helps patients open up and engage in therapeutic conversation through the care of animals, often dogs and horses.

Play-Based Therapy

Play-based therapy is a form often used in the treatment of younger children, who might experience difficulties talking about negative thoughts or trauma, but often re-enact or re-experience it through play.

Music-Based Therapy

Music-based therapy is similar to other forms of art-based therapy, using composition and musical arrangements in place of physical mediums.

Psychodrama

Psychodrama or drama therapy involves immersive acting and roleplaying to re-experience and release suppressed or negative emotions associated with a past event or recurring anxious thought, thereby helping patients work through their issues in a safe and healthy environment.

When is Experiential Therapy Used for Teens?

Experiential therapy may be applied to teens who do not respond well to traditional talk therapy. Experiential therapy may help in the treatment of multiple different conditions, including:

Experiential therapy will be more helpful for teens who struggle to express themselves in other forms of therapy, but “open up” through their art, their creative endeavors, their acting, or other forms of self-expression.

Experiential Therapy as Part of a Larger Treatment Plan

As with any other form of therapy, experiential therapy will usually be offered as part of a larger treatment plan involving multiple modalities, including medication. It may take time, and multiple sessions, for the effects of the treatment process to become noticeable.

For relatives and friends alike, patience and understanding become important. Therapeutic treatments can help patients identify signs of illness and cope with them more effectively, but they aren’t a “cure”. There will be good days and bad days. Sometimes, returning to therapy – or continuing therapy even after the bad episodes have stopped – is an important key to keeping up against negative or unwanted thoughts and behaviors.

What Parents Should Know

Experiential therapy can be intense. Patients are encouraged to express themselves, which can result in painful or uncomfortable forms of self-expression and displays of emotionality.

Your teens might not want to talk openly about what they went through in early sessions, and it may take time for them to explore their emotions. You and your teen can prepare yourselves by looking at footage of sample experiential therapy sessions online, or through other online resources.

Contact Visions Treatment Centers today to learn more about experiential therapy for teens and how it can be used in a residential treatment program.

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Mental Health

Mental and Emotional Health: What’s the Difference?

Your mental health is an encompassing system of emotional, psychological, and social factors. These factors help determine your mental well-being. Indicators of poor emotional health, psychological, or social health can affect your overall mental health and physical health. Mental health exists both as a subject and as a state. Your mental health can be poor or sound, and plenty of things in between. You can struggle with depression but continue to function at home and school. You can be confident in your athletic skills but feel deeply insecure about something else that affects your relationships.

Your mental health can suffer in some ways but remain robust in others. Mental health is often opposed to mental illness, but it’s never really a clear binary. We tend to distinguish between the mentally ill and those who aren’t, but the truth is that many people can struggle with symptoms of mental illness for years before others take notice or before they decide to seek treatment. It isn’t that some people are “crazy” and most aren’t. It’s that each one of us shares emotional, psychological, and social ups and downs and moments where we need help, whether it’s from a loved one, a close friend, or a professional. And sometimes, some of us require more assistance than others. 

What is Emotional Health?

Let’s consider mental health to be a conglomeration of emotional, psychological, and social factors. Emotional health consists of the portion of our well-being defined by feelings, as opposed to the portion of our well-being defined by thoughts(psychological) or our relationships with others and ourselves (social). 

One might think that all mental health is ultimately emotional. Or that all mental health is ultimately psychological. But there are differences between emotions and thoughts. How we feel might directly result from what we think or do. Feelings are often reactive. You can feel a certain way before you do something, but that feeling may be tied to previous thought, experience, or action. In that way, emotional health is deeply tied to psychological or cognitive health because our thoughts can help inform our feelings, and by changing the way we think, we can begin to change the way we feel. 

Does the Difference Matter? 

These granular differences aren’t that important. But the distinction might help you better grasp how mental health problems can be categorized and even treated. Mental health encompasses non-physical health, as complex as it is, from our relationships with others to the active thoughts we have and how we feel. 

Improving Your Emotional Health

By addressing the way we think, we can address the way we feel, and by improving how we behave and interact with others, we can change our relationships for the better, positively reinforce our healthier ways of thinking, and create healthier emotional cycles. Think of the way low mood traps people in cycles of sadness. Self-guilt and feelings of worthlessness become self-fulfilling prophecies as we become sapped of all motivation. People around us lose patience, and it becomes harder to find support. Our outward experiences and vice versa validate our emotions and thoughts. 

Therapy can help patients with depression address these cyclical thoughts through cognitive behavioral therapy, creating a plan of action to identify and contradict negative thinking. Breaking the cycle allows us to snowball in the other direction with positive affirmations, healthy relationships, better thoughts, and happier emotions. 

Coping Skills, Social Skills, and Self-Worth

Of course, there are many cases where people can’t think their way out of a mental health problem. But even so, mental health therapies can help people cope with their conditions in better ways, reduce their impact on their day-to-day lives, and improve their quality of life. Other modalities are also necessary, reducing unwanted thoughts, negative feelings, or anxious impulses through medication or experiential therapies.  Combining therapy with other forms of mental health treatment can create a compounding effect where a condition’s impact on the mind can be lessened through persistence, support, and reassurance. 

A person struggling with depression might struggle with low mood and self-deprecating thoughts for months, years, or decades. But they can learn to combat and deny these thoughts, suffocate them, and replace them through affirmations of the opposite, whether alone with the help of their coping skills or with the help of friends and family. Even addressing physical health can improve mental well-being – eating better, sleeping well, and getting enough exercise can reduce the impact of a mental health problem. But the problem goes both ways. 

Respecting the Cycle 

Your emotional well-being feeds into your physical health. Physical health plays an essential role in your mental health. One cannot do well without the other. 

Stress, both chronic or overwhelming and acute, affects the body.

  • Our heart works harder and gives out faster.
  • The Body’s metabolic processes change.
  • Our fight-or-flight impulses remain active.
  • Adrenal glands go into overdrive.

We get less sleep or oversleep with poor sleep quality. 

We overeat or undereat. Because of our mood, we experience pain differently: low mood means pain feels worse, and sensations that weren’t perceptible before turn into unexplained aches. We might turn to certain maladaptive coping mechanisms to feel better – things that help in the short-term but make things worse overall, whether it’s binge eating or avoidance behaviors or something more self-destructive, like alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse

Internal and external mental factors can significantly undermine our longevity and health. It isn’t just stress. Internalized anxieties that come and go without a trigger or warning or feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness tied with low mood can affect us mentally and physically, even when we aren’t under any significant pressure. 

Take Charge of Your Emotional Health Today

Metabolic health conditions are associated with poorer mental health. But it also goes the other way. Physical illness can exacerbate low mood and depression. Chronic pain often goes hand-in-hand with depression. Injuries and traumatic physical experiences can result in anxieties and PTSDTrying to address only half the problem does not stop the cycle. Long-term treatment begins by asking for help from those around us – friends, families, and professionals alike – and by addressing our physical, emotional, and mental needs altogether in a holistic fashion. 

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Mental Health Mindfulness Wellness

Mental Health Kit for Bad and Good Days

We’ve all got good days and bad days, but for some of us, the bad days may be more frequent at times, or they feel worse than the good days feel good. Even if we get the chance to vocalize our worries and better understand what it is that makes us feel the way we do – whether it’s an anxiety disorderdepressionADHDOCD, or another kind of mental health problem – there’s more to get through a bad day than understanding why it might feel bad. However, having a mental health kit can help with bad and happy days.

Mental health problems are not so far removed from physical health problems. If you cut yourself chopping some carrots, then you can be aware of how and why you cut yourself and why you’re bleeding, but it doesn’t make the pain go away, nor does it address the risk of infection.

First aid kits are essential at home, at work, and at school to address minor injuries, apply pressure to wounds, restrict bleeding, provide little painkillers, and disinfect wounds quickly. And when things get really bad, we call in the paramedics. It’s the same way with your mental health. Some days, you need a first aid kit – and when things are terrible, you need someone to call in an emergency.

What is a Mental Health Kit?

mental health kit can be anything you want it to be, as long as it fulfills its purpose of being a go-to for emotional and mental support. The contents of any person’s mental health kit will look a little different, but a few common things to consider include:

  • Pictures or memorabilia that remind you of something happy.
  • QR codes to playlists or links of songs or videos to watch.
  • Written excerpts from books or poems that inspired you.
  • A journal and a list of writing prompt.
  • A stress ball.
  • A weighted blanket.
  • Some good herbal teas.
  • A scented candle or hand cream that soothes you.
  • A coloring book.
  • And much more!

You don’t need to cram your mental health kit with a hundred different things or resign yourself to only one or two. One of the best parts of making your mental health kit is that you’re in charge of what does and doesn’t make the cut!

Planning the Contents of a Mental Health Kit

First, you need to decide how you want to design your physical kit. A few good ideas include a chest, special drawer, or tote bag. It should be easily accessible, somewhere close to you, like under your bed or next to your desk.

Then, you’ll want to assign different items to different purposes, depending on what you feel you might need on any given bad day. A few examples of emotions you’ll want to elicit include something to:

  • Sooth you.
  • Inspire you.
  • Ground you.
  • Be in the moment. 
  • Something you cherish deeply
  • Last but not least, essential resources for bad days include your therapist’s number, your parent’s phone numbers, the number of your best friend, a group therapy address, and mental health resources or hotlines. These serve as reminders to let you know that there’s always someone to call for help.

Journaling Tools and Writing Prompts

A little notebook or journal, your favorite pen, and a small card with simple writing prompts – one-liner questions that give you a starting point for a journal entry – are good ways to get started with your mental health kit. Journaling is an excellent way to refocus and apply lessons of mindfulness in practice through writing. You can also slow your thoughts down by putting them on paper rather than typing them out or thinking too fast.

Journaling can be a way to sort through your thoughts on bad days, but it can also be a way to cherish and be grateful for how you feel on your good days. You don’t have to grab your kit only when you’re feeling anxious or sad. 

Positive Affirmations

These don’t always work for everyone, but sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right affirmations. Pick a sturdy material you can pick up and repeatedly read, like a card or a plastic coin, and print some of your favorite personalized affirmations on them. 

They could be cute movie lines you remember and like, short aspirational quotes, or affirmations on your strengths as a person, whether you can nurture, your resilience, or your ability to get back up. 

Motivational Music Playlists

Music can be a powerful tool, both on good and bad days. If there are certain songs you like best for any given emotional state, consider making some different music playlists and including them in your kit in the form of handy little QR or NFC chips. 

These are easy to print out or program with your phone. You can refer to them to quickly pop in your favorite songs and sit back, whether you’re in the mood for something upbeat, cheery, positive, and inspirational, or themes to mellow you out, bring you back down to earth, and help you counter negative thoughts. 

Happy Video Playlist

Aside from music, another good idea is a QR code for a playlist of YouTube videos to cheer you up, from funny or cute shorts to moments in movies that you like revisiting, memes, or your favorite moments from different content creator’s videos. You can curate and expand your list over time, letting it evolve with your tastes. 

Hotlines and Important Numbers

Like a physical first aid kit, your mental health kit should include a couple of significant numbers that you can always refer to if you’re ever in trouble emotionally. Sometimes, a soft reminder to call your parents, partner, or best friend can turn things around. Certain hotlines and your therapist’s number can also be important as emergency numbers. 

You Don’t Have to Make It Alone!

A mental health kit can be as straightforward or as complicated as you want it to be. But if you’re not up to the task initially, it’s always a good idea to ask for help. A parent or friend can help you pick out the best tools for the task – whether it’s something to help you when you’re anxious, make you feel a little better when you’re depressed, or help you cherish the moment on good days. 

 

Categories
Mental Health

How to Talk to Parents About Mental Health

If you’ve been having a hard time recently, you will need someone to talk to. A friend, a sibling, a parent. But for many people, finding the courage to address their own mental health can be very difficult–especially when trying to figure out how to talk to parents about mental health issues. Some people feel guilty about being depressed or anxious. Some people feel it’s their fault, would become a burden to others if they mentioned it, and others think it might go away if they ignore it.

Ignoring Thoughts and Feelings

Sadly, most mental health problems don’t away on their own. And ignoring your thoughts and feelings can often make them worse over time. Talking to your loved ones is one of your best options for recourse, and it’s something they’d want you to do. A mental health condition can be difficult to address, but it does not ever make you a burden to those who love you, no matter how much that thought echoes itself in your head.

There are times when it might be important to prepare yourself before you talk to a loved one about how you’ve been feeling. Your parents might become upset if you tell them how you feel. They might become angry. But it’s crucial that you understand that these emotions are often because they’re upset with themselves, not with you. In the same way, we feel we’ve let our loved ones down when we feel bad, and our loved ones might feel like they’ve failed us, even if they did not.

Sometimes we Blame Ourselves

Mental health problems are often misunderstood in such a way that most people try to find out where things went wrong–even when there is no concrete cause or triggering event for a bout of depression or anxiety or for a history of substance use. No one chooses to struggle with their mental health, and it’s often not something that’s done to us.

When we don’t have anyone to blame, we tend to blame ourselves. But while it’s often very difficult to think of these things rationally, especially at the height of a depressive episode or anxious day, it’s usually neither your fault nor the fault of your parents. That is why it’s so important to start talking to each other.

The Importance of Talking

Before you find a way to talk to your parents about your mental health, it’s important to understand why talking helps.

Most mental health issues are treated through a combination of modalities, talk therapy, and medicationCognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, is often the gold standard for treating conditions such as depression and anxiety, whereas other talk therapy methods, such as dialectical behavior therapyexposure response prevention therapy, and psychodynamic therapy each have their own application in the treatment of conditions ranging from panic disorder to obsessive-compulsive disorderschizophrenia, and personality disorders.

Talking to Loved Ones

Our friends and parents usually aren’t trained therapists or medical professionals. But talking to our loved ones about how we feel can bring us closer to the first step of therapy – learning to put our thoughts and emotions to words and sharing them with someone else. Even just acknowledging how you feel can be a cathartic experience and can be healing.

In many cases, our loved ones can even offer relevant advice and helpful affirmations. Many instances of mental health problems are hereditary, and the chances are that your parent might have struggled with similar thoughts when they were your age. Their experiences and coping mechanisms may help you find better ways to heal, as well.

Sadly, this isn’t always the case.

Dealing With Expectations and Disappointments

As we grow older, we begin to develop a concept of who we want to become while coping with the reality of who we are. Reconciling the two is important but difficult, especially if we become uncompromising with ourselves, and especially when our expectations for ourselves are set dramatically high.

The easier it is to fail your own expectations, the more often you will do so, and the more frustrated you will grow with yourself, creating a vicious cycle. In some cases, we begin to project these expectations of ourselves onto others.

If you hold yourself accountable to an extremely high level, ask yourself if these expectations are really set by your parents or if they’re something you’ve set for yourself.

Ask yourself if your parents, who love you, would really be disappointed to hear that you’re struggling – or if they would instead be worried and want to help as best they can. In most cases, the truth will be closer to the latter.

If your parents do have extremely high expectations for you, then it’s all the more important to talk to them about how you feel, especially how you feel about their reactions towards your struggles and thoughts.

Parents want what’s best for their kids, including wanting them to become the best versions of themselves. Understanding that their own approach and reaction to how you’re feeling might play a role in why you’ve been hiding how you feel might help them consider a better way to respond to you in the future.

How to Initiate the Conversation

We tend to know how our parents might react to most things, but when it comes to mental illness, it’s difficult to trust your own judgment because of how certain conditions can lead us to consistently fear the worst outcomes.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare yourself. Take the time to consider what your parents might say and, more importantly, what questions they might ask. And ask yourself what you feel comfortable addressing. Not everyone wishes their parents to know everything, and you are entitled to privacy, especially with regards to your thoughts.

Divulging only the bare necessities can present an altogether different set of problems, of course. Your parents might not know how to help you without a few more details. Some things you might want to consider bringing up when asked (or when introducing your problems) include:

  • When it started.
  • How you usually feel.
  • How bad it gets.
  • What makes it feel worse.

Review what you are comfortable sharing with them and what you might want them to consider. If you’ve done some research on how you’ve been feeling, you might already have an idea of what it is you’re going through.

Explaining how important it might be to you to see a professional and receive a proper diagnosis can help your parents recognize how to support you concretely.

This is especially important if your parents don’t believe you, perhaps because they’re struggling with something similar and have never acknowledged it, or because they consider your thoughts and worries to be a “normal” part of growing up.

Making it clear that you would still like a professional opinion, with all due respect to their beliefs, can be crucial to recognizing and addressing a mental health problem.

Seeking Resources

If your parents are part of the reason why you feel the way you do, it might be in your best interest to seek other resources for help. In most cases, your best bet would be to ask an older adult sibling, a school counselor, or seek official online resources for the contact details of local mental health professionals.

Categories
Mental Health

The Impact of Social Media and Teen Mental Health

When social media first entered the public consciousness, it quickly became clear that this was as much of a revelation in the use of the Internet as radio media and TV news had transformed the way new telecommunication technologies entered our day-to-day lives. And as exciting as it was, it was unclear how social media and teen mental health would unravel in the future.

In tech parlance, social media and portable Wi-Fi devices became the “killer app” that elevated the Internet from being a vital background technology for knowledge sharing, to becoming the thing over billions of people wake up to and utilize nearly every day.

This technological paradigm shift has its pros and cons, especially for the younger generation of “digital natives” who use platforms like Instagram and Twitter even more than their parents and grandparents.

For one, it’s easier to communicate with one another. It’s one thing to spend a fortune to call someone across continents over the payphone for a few short minutes or send an SMS and hope for the best. It’s a wholly different story to be able to instantly communicate with one another, share our thoughts and memories in text, audio, photo, and video form, and form new connections completely virtually.

Secondly, social media is built on the idea that we can represent and tailor our self-image on the Internet and form connections with one another. It is more than just a big, cluttered community corkboard – these platforms are designed to connect like-minded people, share common interests, and make this vast world of ours feel smaller than ever before while giving each of us control over the way we appear online.

But there are stark downsides. The analogies between social networks and real-life relationships can lead us to place a similar level of importance on the relationships we develop and foster online and those we make in our day-to-day. The brain experiences joy from receiving Facebook likes and Twitter retweets the same way we feel validated and complemented to our faces. Yet the two are not the same.

The Link Between Social Media and Teen Mental Health 

Rather than a true reflection, social media is more like a funhouse mirror. Tweens and teens, who are in the middle of developing the capacity to digest and navigate these complex social relationships with their peers, are especially affected by the way attention and validation online can make them feel.

This is something these platforms knowingly exploit to encourage more interactions, farm more user data, and provide advertisers with a larger target audience. In more ways than one, this manipulative relationship can have a multitude of negative effects on teen mental health.

Yes, you can make new friends online. You can have genuine interactions with other people, share your experiences and memories, and form a bond before ever meeting. But there are also countless experiences of manipulative or false online relationships, catfishing, or dangerous online grooming rings.

On a less drastic note, the simple act of uploading daily experiences online for likes and interaction can affect a teen’s self-esteem, make them dependent on their online self-worth as per other people’s messages, comments, and validations, and leave them particularly vulnerable to online victimization, or more controversial content in the name of maintaining engagement. We’ve seen it happen on MySpaceFacebookInstagram, and now more recently, on TikTok.

It’s fun to upload a vacation picture and share your experiences with friends. But on the more nefarious side, social media can become a place where teens with a fragile self-esteem equate their value with how they are perceived or received online, falling apart and becoming depressed when their content no longer inspires as many likes or comments as it used to.

Some teens do move past this in adulthood – others get stuck and are much more likely to develop serious mental health issues as a result of their online experiences.

Social Media and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are not only one of the most common mental health disorders whose growth can be attributed to a rise in social media use among teens, but they are also the deadliest type of mental health disorder.

An eating disorder directly impacts a teen’s physical health, and it can often take several bouts of hospitalization for a teen to finally begin their recovery process. Therapy for an eating disorder is difficult, requiring the expertise of psychiatrists and dieticians, as well as the supervision of a physician.

Does this mean social media causes eating disorders? Not necessarily, but it can exacerbate them, trigger them, or contribute to their development in an unhealthy way. The largest cause of eating disorders remains hereditary.

Social Media and Anxiety

Teens are going through a rough time: adolescence. And yet, while every generation prior has survived the very same growing pains, anxiety rates among today’s teens seem higher than before. Some of it can be attributed to a better understanding of how common anxiety really is. Some of it is a result of a cascade of world events. And some of it can be attributed to the impact of social media.

In the early days of the Internet, many parents worked hard to impress on their kids the importance of anonymity and child safety online. Yet it has become harder and harder to monitor what kids do and see, especially with the invention of the smartphone. Teens today spend multiple hours a day on several different social networks, whether it’s to consume content on YouTube or TikTok, or make content of their own.

It’s not all negative. Social media use can exacerbate issues in both directions. It can affect teens with naturally lower self-esteem and greater anxiety issues in negative ways. But it can also empower these teens, inspire them to pick up a new hobby, perhaps get them into sports, cataloging and sharing their personal achievements, and building up their own self-worth through a positive feedback loop.

Furthermore, the impact that social media use has on teen anxiety is not to be overestimated in contrast to the impact of general everyday stressors. Teens are still mostly worried about their grades, their crushes, their friendships, high school and college struggles, and the problems of the near future, whether it’s the job market or global warming.

Would it help to lower a teen’s screentime? Maybe. A better idea might be to talk to your teen about their worries and concerns and help address them together. The constant feedback and noise of social media might not make things any easier, but many of the stressors teens experience are still closer to home than to the digital world.

It’s also critical to be a good role model with how you use your own tech. Teens are highly sensitive to anything they deem hypocritical or ironic and will be less likely to take your concerns seriously when your screentime almost eclipses theirs.

It’s a complicated world out there, and it’s difficult to raise a teen in it. But it’s also important to be cognizant of when an issue becomes too great for either of you to manage alone. Anxiety disorders, suicidality, and depressive thoughts are best addressed by seeking professional help together.