Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Wellness

7 New Years Goals for Teens

New years goals for teens and adults can vary, simply due to different stages of life. For some, a new years resolution centers around weight lost, picking up a new hobby, or even getting treatment for mental health.

And for millions of Americans, a new year often comes with new goals and resolutions. But is that a good thing? Most new years resolutions fail to uphold their commitment, which would usually indicate that it isn’t just a question of willpowerWhy is it so hard to do the things you should want to do?

The answer, in most cases, is that you don’t really want to do them. New years resolutions typically fail because people tend to select goals that reflect what they should do or be, rather than what they want. It makes little sense to set a goal for yourself that is not ultimately tied to an activity or result that you truly enjoy or crave. Teens struggle with this just as much as adults do.

You Don’t Need to Start Today

A lot of people fail to commit to their new year’s resolutions because they started working on their goals on January 1st, rather than when they were ready. Someone who dives headfirst into a goal without the necessary preparation is more likely to struggle as a result.

Going back to the popular gym and fitness example, you might feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, and it becomes impossible to tell the difference between good and bad advice. Instead, use January as your exploratory month.

Do your research. Consult different experts. Formulate a concrete first goal. Determine what you need to establish your starting position – equipment, setting, space, and community resources. And then, get started in February or March once you’ve answered your day one questions.

New Years Goals for Teens in 2023

Goals that mean something to you – that are linked to your interests or guided by intrinsic motivation – are less likely to fail. Here are some concrete and productive new years goals for teens that you can work toward achieving this year for a better you and to improve your mental health too!

1. Set a Small Screen Time Limit

Excessive screen time is a risk factor for mental health and exacerbates symptoms of depression, lowered self-esteem, and anxiety. You don’t need to go cold turkey on social media or delete Discord from your phone. But do consider keeping a closer eye on your daily computer and smartphone usage, tracking your hours on screens, and setting realistic goals to minimize or introduce breaks for both mental and physical health.

Use those breaks to do something you enjoy – listen to music without looking at a screen, read a physical book, go on a walk, or spend some time gardening. If you have pets, take on more pet-related chores and responsibilities – these can be almost meditative and give you more time to bond with your favorite fur buddy.

2. Dedicate More Time to the Outdoors

Whether it’s something substantial like a monthly hiking trip or just a weekly drive out to the nearest national park for a quick jog or leisurely walk, being outside and in nature can do wonders for both your physical and your mental well-being. Try introducing a few extra nature trips or long walks through the woods into your life this year.

3. Place a Premium on Good Sleep

Sleep hygiene gets emphasized heavily in nearly every single one of these posts and articles, and for a good reason. Everything we do is contextualized by how well-rested we are. Cognitively, socially, and physically, our performance in nearly any aspect of life is colored at least partially by the quality of our sleep.

Making a commitment to head to bed earlier than usual is a good start, but it’s almost impossible to implement. Start with habits that will help you tire out more easily: make sure your room is usually cool and dark in the evenings, rely on warmer lights, cut out blue lights or screens before bed, quit caffeine in the afternoons, and exercise.

4. Go To Therapy (With a Friend)

Mental health treatment is not scary. Nor is it painful. But it is stigmatized, and many teens remain unconvinced that they need or should consider seeking professional help, even as their symptoms get worse.

However, reaching out for help and learning to take care of your mental health are great new years goals for teens. If you think you may be struggling with a mental health condition that is affecting your studies, your relationships, and your day-to-day life, taking the first step toward therapy will be tremendously helpful. But if you need that extra push, consider asking a friend to go with you.

5. Move A Little Bit More

There is more to exercise than running track and field, lifting weights, or going for a swim. Embrace movement in some shape or form, whatever it may be.

We’re ultimately not built to be sedentary for long periods of time, and once you find a form of movement that you enjoy, you can massively improve your general quality of life and regain control over your body.

6. Quit Deprecation

It may just be something small – like insulting yourself in the mirror, berating yourself for trying something or putting yourself down for buying something – but try to make a commitment towards stopping all forms of self-deprecation this year.

Don’t make jokes at your own expense, insult yourself when you’re alone or with others, or take your anger out on your own body. Whenever you feel the urge to say something mean, swallow it – and try to say something positive, anything positive, instead.

7. Try One New Thing

It could be crocheting, pottery, learning to bake, making bread, or even Japanese gunpla. New hobbies are not just an opportunity to expand your interests but an opportunity to meet new people, explore new ideas, find new outlets for stress, and even change your worldview.

A new years resolution can be an impetus for self-improvement and change. But it’s not enough to commit yourself to a vague goal on January 1st without more of a personal connection. It’s important to personalize your goals and pick a realistic approach.

Setting Realistic New Years Goals for Teens

Let’s say, for example, that you have always hated gym class, don’t enjoy most sports, and have spent most of high school being sedentary and enjoying non-athletic hobbies.

You have no personal interest in physical fitness and no real intrinsic motivation to go and begin your gym transformation. You have no concrete knowledge of where to begin in the gym, no foundation of strength or fitness, and no idea whether to prioritize cardio over weights or which supplements to take or ignore.

None of that changes from the night of the 31st into the morning of the 1st.

But, if you are interested in getting fit, you can take your general interest and begin adapting it to more specific, intrinsic motivation. Perhaps there’s a specific fictional character you wish to look like.

There’s probably some merchandise you can wear to help you relate your exercise regimen to that character, like a themed training shirt, hoodie, or shaker. Start your training sessions with arousing music from your favorite game or show. Begin consuming more fitness content that you relate to, or have an interest in. Find exercises that you do enjoy doing.

The Power of Goals

Goals can be powerful tools, but they can also backfire heavily. If your mental and physical well-being is important to you, then setting goals that are achievable should come before setting goals that are aspirational.

For more information about treatment for teen mental health, contact Visions Treatment Centers.

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Mental Health Therapy Treatment

Get Help at a Teen Mental Health Program This Year

We may be in the midst of a teen mental health crisis. Teens are experiencing unprecedented rates of anxiety and depression, both of which continue on a steady climb, while information about available mental health resources – like finding a suitable outpatient or residential teen mental health program – appears to lag behind.

It’s important to know how to identify that your teen may need help – and recognize what kind of help might be best for them.

Does Your Teen Need Mental Health Treatment?

A teen mental health program can become relevant for teens when their emotional state and behaviors begin to negatively impact their lives, to the degree that they repeatedly struggle to stay out of trouble at home or at school.

Teen mental health programs are also important to consider when a teen is badly hurt or even hospitalized as a result of actions that they do not appear to be able to control, whether it’s a self-destructive tendency, an extreme attraction to risk, or other forms of volatile behavior.

A teen might see a therapist after the death of their loved one, especially if their grief has been as severe on the hundredth day as on the first. But they won’t necessarily be referred to a teen treatment program unless a thorough mental assessment first determines a likely diagnosis.

It is a mistake to try and diagnose your teen yourself or indulge in what they think they might have. Symptoms of major depression and anxiety can often mask a different mood disorder or something else entirely, like a personality disorder.

Psychiatrists and trained doctors utilize different behavioral tests and one-on-one assessments to help understand and determine a teen’s troubles, and formulate an individual treatment plan that takes their circumstances into account.

What Does a Teen Mental Health Program Look Like?

A teen mental health program is a dedicated therapeutic plan developed by mental health professionals with the aim of addressing a teen’s individual circumstances on a biopsychosocial level – meaning their home life, physical conditions and medical history, social experiences at school and/or work, and significant risk factors, in addition to their mood and mental health history, comorbid conditionscurrent medications, and past treatment plans.

Teen mental health programs usually entail different levels of care. For example, an intensive inpatient program will often include a holistic approach that combines traditional psychotherapy with other treatment modalities, such as animal-assisted therapy, experiential therapy, and treatment-resistant modalities such as EMDR or nerve stimulation, all while providing room and board for teens in treatment.

In other words: teen mental health treatment programs come in different levels, and treatment is prescribed as per a teen’s situation, whether a thorough assessment finds that they’re diagnosed with multiple different mental health issues or a single diagnosis with severe symptoms.

Attributes of a Good Teen Mental Health Program

There are several components to a good teen mental health program. These include:

  • Complete care. Mental health programs are not solely to address a teen’s textbook symptoms. Doctors work with each other to identify all of the factors that are negatively affecting a teen’s thoughts and behavior, including their diagnosis, to create better outcomes.
  • Age-specific programming. Teens and children require different contexts and different forms of care from adults. The symptoms of certain disorders, such as PTSD, are different in teens versus adults. Age-specific programming, including age-specific treatment groups, ensures that teen patients receive tailored treatment.
  • Family involvement. More often than not, teens continue to be shaped by the actions and influences of their parents, even more so than their peers. Ensuring that parents or other family members understand the role they play in and outside of treatment helps create a better environment for teens to return to after their program ends.
  • Evidence-based treatment. Some programs incorporate other elements of care, including spiritual or faith-based care, whether in their therapy sessions or as part of the overarching theme of their clinic. But all good mental health programs must rely on a core of evidence-based treatments, including proven psychotherapy methods, alternative treatment methods with a robust body of work, and appropriately approved medications.
  • Assessment and reassessment of outcomes. Good treatment programs and clinics emphasize rigorous testing and evaluation of their methods and outcomes, whether through testimonials or outside reviews. Look for treatment providers who are proud of their reputation and openly allow former clients to talk about their treatment methods and staff. Avoid clinics that promote secrecy or are hesitant to reveal details about how they treat patients.
  • Individualized care. In addition to complete care, a good teen mental health program champions individualized care – every patient receives the treatment they need, with a treatment plan that is formulated for them after their initial assessment and is adjusted as needed.  
  • And more. Mental health treatment can be complex, and treatment facilities can differ in the modalities and specializations that they offer. Some treatment centers focus on addiction or trauma-related illnesses. Some only cater to teens, creating an environment specifically to help adolescent patients. Some treatment centers focus on providing care to women.

While the core tenets of most teen mental health programs are the same, they offer different levels of care to address patients with different needs. Some patients only need a structured treatment plan that asks them to come to see a professional twice a week and complete certain exercises at home.

Other plans are more rigorous or even require teens to live out on a special compound, such as a residential setting or a psychiatric hospital. These levels of care can generally be differentiated as either outpatient care or inpatient care, with varying degrees of intensity.

What Happens After Treatment?

For most teens, going through a mental health program for the first time is just the beginning of a long road. Most clinics and facilities emphasize that they are a stepping stone for long-term mental health treatment – some people require a lifetime of support through medication and different forms of therapy to mediate severe symptoms and function independently. Some people can bring their mental health condition into “remission” and lead a long and fulfilling life with minimal flare-ups, as long as they continue to take care of their stress and mental well-being. Some people experience a resurgence of symptoms and need an intensive care program before they can control their symptoms and live on their own again.

Your teen’s level of care, and the care they might need going forward, will differ from their peers even with the same diagnosis. Some cases are more severe than others, and some teens require different forms of support than others. But it’s important never to give up and to embrace the fact that we all need help, one way or the other.

For more information about enrolling in a residential treatment center for teens, contact Visions Treatment Centers today.

Categories
Mental Health

January Mental Wellness Month: How Can You Celebrate?

New year’s resolutions are an unfairly maligned tool – while goalsetting can be unmotivating or even self-destructive, using the new year as an impetus for self-improvement can still be a good idea with the right approach. For January Mental Wellness Month, let’s commit to making real progress on improving our mental health and wellness – and embrace mental wellness not just as a goal for feeling better but as a long-term mission towards achieving a healthier state of mind, from mood to self-esteem and social value.

What is January Mental Wellness Month?

Mental Wellness Month is observed and celebrated every January as an opportunity to increase awareness on matters of mental wellness and emotional balance.

While the public has become increasingly aware of the risk of mental health issues and the growing problems of depression and anxiety in modern communities, Mental Wellness Month aims to drive home the point that our mental well-being is a universal issue and that everyone can benefit from learning more about improving their mental health, regardless of whether they personally share a history of mental health problems and diagnosed conditions.

January Mental Wellness Month gives us a chance to talk to our loved ones about taking some steps to protect against lifelong stressors, prevent burnout, and address many of the risk factors that continue to impact most people on a day-to-day basis, including social isolation, societal worries, financial insecurity, poor sleep quality, hate speech, and sedentary living.

You can celebrate Mental Wellness Month in January by taking steps yourself or with your friends and family to improve your coping skills, adopt healthier stress management habits, identify and address specific risk factors, and recognize when you or a loved one might need professional help.

A New Year, A New You?

Many people struggle to accomplish their new year’s resolutions for a number of reasons. Because Mental Wellness Month is observed in January, we can take the opportunity to address the biggest goal-setting mistakes – and how proper goal-setting can help build important habits that leave a lasting impact on your life, including both your mental and physical wellness.

  • Goals that are too abstract (i.e., achieving “well-being”).
  • Goals that are attached to meaninglessness (i.e., you’re told you should lose weight or look better, but there’s no intrinsic reward or motivation in that).
  • Goals that are too harsh (i.e., putting on 20 lbs of muscle in six months or going to the gym every day for a year).
  • Goals that ultimately aren’t worth it (i.e., your heart isn’t really in it, and you don’t care as much as you’re trying to pretend to).

With all these issues combined, we can start working backward to identify goals and habits that are going to be much easier and more fulfilling to accomplish in the New Year and beyond. These include:

  • Smaller goals.
  • Tying positive or healthy habits to impulsive temptations (i.e., going for a walk whenever you get the urge to smoke).
  • Do more research and establish a step-by-step plan before jumping in (you don’t need to start right now!).
  • Seeking accountability (alone or with a friend).
  • Identifying things you really want, like beating an old personal record, finally committing to an instrument you’ve spent years toying around with, etc.).
  • Turn a lapse or relapse into a stumbling block, not a failure state. Just keep going!

Ultimately, it’s also important to remember that one of the biggest reasons people fail to set and achieve their goals in the New Year is that their impetus is based on a date rather than personal motivation. The best indicator for success in habit forming is wanting to change genuinely. People who are desperate for a change in their lives won’t wait for the first day of the new year to get started.

But that does not make the effort useless. You may fail. But remind yourself that you can just try again. Start from the beginning or in the middle stages. Continue where you left off. Nothing is keeping you from doing so.

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

For some people, starting the new year with a month dedicated to all the things you need to change might not make the right first impression. Instead, take a moment to consider what you’ve already accomplished and celebrate your successes, no matter how few or how little they might seem to you at the moment.

It could be a successful move to a new home or town, graduation, your first job, spending more time exercising last year than the year before, or any other changes you’re proud of. Establish what you’ve already achieved – and allow yourself to feel contentment.

Reaffirming Priorities

A lot of the time, mental well-being is more about being at peace with what it is than it is about changing anything. You can achieve a healthier state of mind by learning to cope with who you are and what you do than rushing to alter your habits and behaviors at an unrealistic rate.

Once you begin to embrace your positive attributes, you can slowly begin to alter the negative ones and work towards a better mental and physical state after you have established the personal attributes and characteristics that you are happy with, such as your positive sleeping habits, your ability to be creative and productive in short bursts, your personal talents, or your strong suits as a student.

You Don’t Need Illness to Seek Help

January Mental Wellness Month aims to take the conversation around mental health and reframe it as one that is not just relevant to people with severe symptoms of mental illness.

In the same way that we all need to stay hydrated, sleep enough, eat good food, and go on a walk every now and again, we need to apply protective habits to improve and safeguard our mental wellness and prevent episodes of anxiety or depression through a healthier relationship with our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

To that end, the same way you might see your doctor for a yearly checkup, you should consider talking to a counselor or seeing a therapist to discuss your thoughts and feelings.

For more information about teen mental health and wellness, reach out to Visions Treatment Centers.

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Bipolar Disorder Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Mental Health Therapy

CBT For Bipolar Teens: What It Is And How It Helps

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has a long history as one of the most effective and successful talk therapy methods to be developed in modern psychotherapy. But what is it, and how does CBT for bipolar disorder in teenagers help?

Understanding the power of therapy is important; more than just a friendly conversation, an experienced therapist leads and guides a patient through a structured, long-term dialogue and goal-oriented mission plan, helping patients learn to identify and isolate the thoughts and behaviors that characterize their mental health problems and make improvements day by day.

For people with bipolar disorder, a chronic mood disorder that can drastically change a person’s mindset, personality, and behavior, therapy can be one of the most powerful tools to mediate symptoms and lead a fulfilling and normal life. This is especially important for teens – an early assessment and treatment, like CBT for bipolar disorder, can help teens develop the coping skills they need to continue to take control of their disorder for years to come and recognize when they need outside help and support.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, the same class of condition as severe or chronic depression. Indeed, depression is one of bipolar disorder’s most common symptoms, in addition to mania or hypomania.

Where depression is a debilitating and inescapable level of sadness and anhedonia (joylessness), mania is the opposite, albeit similarly debilitating mental state, where people experience restlessness and boundless energy in addition to dangerous feelings of grandeur, a loss of natural inhibition, and heightened irritability. It is not uncommon for symptoms of true mania to be severe enough to lead to hospitalization. Meanwhile, hypomania involves a lower intensity of symptoms than regular mania.

A case of bipolar disorder can be classified in multiple different ways.

  • Bipolar I involves at least one severe manic episode, with potential (but not necessary) depressive episodes.
  • Bipolar II describes both hypomanic and depressive episodes, but never just one or the other. A person who has experienced a severe manic episode has bipolar I, even if they experience hypomanic episodes from time to time.
  • Cyclothymia is described as a form of bipolar disorder that features milder symptoms than both bipolar I and II, with moderate symptoms of hypomania and depression. Cyclothymia is only diagnosed after at least two years of chronic mental health symptoms.
  • Other forms of bipolar disorder are either classified as a specified bipolar and related disorder or an unspecified bipolar and related disorder. The former describes symptoms that don’t quite match bipolar I, II, or cyclothymia, while the second is used to label patients who are likely struggling with bipolar disorder but have not been fully or thoroughly assessed yet.

Rapid Cycling in Bipolar Disorder

It should also be noted that, in only about one in ten cases, bipolar disorder can be rapid cycling. In cases of rapid cycling bipolar disorder, depressive and/or manic episodes occur more than four times a year. The average bipolar cycle takes months, contrary to popular belief. People who struggle with bipolar disorder are not constantly changing and shifting in their emotional state from extreme highs to extreme lows. Their mania comes and goes, as does their depression (if they get depressed).

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can take time to properly recognize and professionally assess. Mental health professionals must work with a patient to identify their symptoms and past episodes, and rule out potential conditions that may otherwise explain certain symptoms or might interfere with a diagnosis, such as:

One of the reasons it is important to correctly diagnose a teen with bipolar disorder is that bipolar disorder requires a different treatment process from any of the above mental health issues.

There are also specialized mood stabilizer medications that are typically only prescribed for patients with bipolar disorder. Medication can help moderate-severe symptoms. But medication alone is often insufficient to completely manage bipolar disorder. This is where therapies such as CBT for bipolar disorder and a one-on-one psychotherapy approach become important.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy developed through the combination of two different forms of talk therapy, namely cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. Both of these treatment methods were developed separately and for different mental health problems.

Cognitive therapy is characterized by a thought-based approach. Patients learn to identify and alter problematic thoughts through a combination of thought exercises, and by learning to separate the thoughts that trigger their negative moods from healthier thinking patterns. The idea, in many cases, is to take a patient away from blaming the past or themselves and to work on being more mindful of how their own thoughts can spiral them into different situations.

CBT for Bipolar in Teens

Behavioral therapy aims to address and alter the things we do. By focusing on actions, behavioral therapy can help teens learn better coping skills, stress management options and identify maladaptive behavior that contributes negatively to their mental health. A big part of behavioral therapy is learning to change these negative behaviors, and encourage positive action.

A combination of thought analysis and maladaptive behavioral pattern recognition can help teens with bipolar disorder through intensive one-on-one sessions, usually lasting an hour or longer.

Research shows that individuals undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy for bipolar disorder usually had fewer hospitalizations, fewer episodes, and lower rates of medication use while improving their psychosocial functioning, reducing the severity of their manic symptoms, and reducing depression.

Do I Need Treatment?

If you or a loved one are struggling with consistent and recurring depressive thoughts, as well as occasional symptoms of mania or manic thought – from completely uncharacteristic feats of performance at work or school after months of being in a slump or unusual energy levels and a change in personality – you may want to talk to a counselor or therapist about getting a professional assessment for your mental and physical health.

Bipolar disorder can be a lifelong condition, and though some people can cope with mild symptoms while undiagnosed, it can be a debilitating condition for millions of others.

Get the help you deserve today. Reach out to Visions Treatment Centers for more information.

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Depression Mental Health Mood Disorders Therapy Treatment

Is Depression Medication for Teens Better Than Therapy?

Teen depression is one of the most common adolescent mental health issues in the world, second only to teen anxiety disorders. Depression is a serious and often debilitating mental health issue among teens and remains the most common cause of disability in the US. And for parents looking for different treatment options for their child, it’s not uncommon to wonder if depression medication for teens would be a better alternative than therapy or if it would be best to seek both.

Let’s talk about it.

When It’s More Than Sadness

More than just sadness, depression is overwhelming fatigue, unexplained aches, total loss of joy, increased pain sensitivity, lack of ability to generate or feel motivation, and unknown flare-ups in symptoms.

Many teens who struggle with depression struggle academically, have a hard time developing to their full potential and go through a much tougher road in life. Thankfully, depression is treatable. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan that works.

How Is Depression Treated?

The first line treatment for any teen or adult with major depressive disorder, the most common mood disorder and most common form of depression is a combination of psychotherapy and selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

SSRIs are some of the most recent antidepressants in a long line of different drug families, and they are some of the most well-researched psychiatric drugs in the world. But they are not a miracle cure for depression, and they often don’t work too well just on their own.

Psychotherapy is one-on-one talk therapy between a trained mental health professional and a patient. In the case of depression, the most commonly used therapeutic method is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy developed in the 1970s and 1980s by combining the individual successes of cognitive therapy (focused on patient thoughts and thinking patterns) and behavioral therapy (focused on habits, actions, and controlling one’s responses in life).

When combined, modern SSRIs and talk therapy represent the most successful treatment plan for depressed patients. But the success rate is never 100 percent. Furthermore, it can take time for both therapy and the medication to work.

What Are Antidepressants?

There are half a dozen different subtypes of SSRI and well over a dozen branded and generic SSRI drugs. Each of these compounds reacts in different patients differently, with varied potential side effects and side effect severity. Some people react the least to citalopram, while others are better off on sertraline.

When a patient takes a recommended SSRI, it can take multiple weeks for the drug to begin taking effect. If side effects show up and they inhibit a patient’s life, it can take several more weeks for the drug to be completely flushed out before a different compound is used.

SSRIs are not addictive nor particularly dangerous. The side effects can be frustrating – such as weight gain, loss of sex drive, and drowsiness – but SSRIs are very, very rarely associated with serious risks, such as rare cases of increased suicidality or heart arrhythmia. Nevertheless, it can take a few different tries until a patient finds a drug that works best for them.

If no SSRIs work well, a patient may consider different, older classes of antidepressants, such as SNRIstricyclic antidepressantsMAOIs, and atypical antidepressants. While these may work, they are usually associated with a higher risk of side effects.

Therapy for Depression

Talk therapy is not a drug and does not have conventional side effects. But as far as treatment methods go, there is no guarantee that a patient will respond well to individual therapy either. Some teens are very receptive, while others have a much harder time responding or opening up in therapy. Some teens do better in a group setting, while others prefer solely one-on-one therapy sessions. While CBT is the premier therapeutic treatment method, there are other valid forms of talk therapy for depression, including dialectic behavioral therapy, behavioral activation therapy, and interpersonal psychotherapy.

Even among first-line treatments – like antidepressants and therapy – it’s hard to say which is better. Furthermore, it’s hard to say which is best for your teen. SSRIs and CBT are the most studied treatment methods, but that does not mean you or your teen won’t respond better to older drugs and a completely different therapy plan.

Are Antidepressants Better Than Placebo?

The research on antidepressants can be confusing. There are studies supporting the continued use of antidepressants in the treatment of depression. There are also conflicting review papers that find that antidepressants match placebo at best and that serotonin availability may not be a factor in depressive symptoms.

One particularly polarizing review involved a thorough analysis of the evidence behind the serotonin theory of depression, one of the cornerstones of antidepressant use. It found that there is no consistent evidence nor support for the hypothesis that depression is caused by lowered serotonin activity based on current research.

Furthermore, the criteria for inclusion in a phase III trial for an antidepressant do not necessarily reflect the reality of the majority of people who are prescribed antidepressants. Many people who take antidepressants would not actually be included in a clinical trial for the drug they are taking.

The rabbit hole of research on the efficacy of depression treatments goes deep. Here are some interesting things research can tell us:

  • Mindset matters a lot. A patient’s receptiveness to both therapy and antidepressant drugs can be highly indicative of their success.
  • Antidepressants need more research. The link between depression and serotonin availability is not clear, and what we do know tells us that medication on its own is not often a useful therapeutic tool.
  • Patients differ wildly. Depression is a condition with many comorbid conditions, all of which can modify and exacerbate depressive symptoms. Teens with depression often also struggle with anxiety, with chronic health issues like asthma and irritable bowel syndrome, or may have a history of drug use. Treatment plans must be highly individualized to help patients.

Depression Medication for Teens or Therapy: Which is Best?

Based on what we currently know, the best available answer is both, although therapy may be more important than medication.

While the serotonin theory of depression may not hold up in the long term, antidepressants seem to work – even if their mechanism of action is not completely understood. What we can agree on is that medication use must occur alongside therapy for the best effect.

Furthermore, not all teens will respond effectively to medication and therapy. Some teens need a different treatment approach or need a treatment plan that takes other factors into consideration, including comorbid mental and physical health conditions.

What About Treatment-Resistant Depression Options?

There are other treatments for depression than just antidepressants and therapy. However, the jury is often still out on these treatments. They include ketamine (a controversial dissociative anesthetic drug), electroconvulsive therapy, and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Despite being one of the most common mental health conditions on the planet, depression is not completely understood. In any given case, careful consideration of all factors is needed, and treatment must be individualized. More importantly, therapy nearly always plays an important role in depression treatment.

Get Depression Treatment for Teens

Are you or your teen struggling with depression? Reach out to Visions Treatment Center to explore depression treatment for teens today.

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Mental Health Wellness

What Triggers Mental Health Setbacks? (And How to Prevent Them)

You have been here before. You can feel it. You’ve felt the same kind of creeping feeling in the past. In some cases, people describe it as an enveloping feeling, like cold molasses turning your arms and legs to lead. What you may be experiencing is a flare-up or a series of mental health setbacks resulting from a mental health disorder.

Mental Health Setbacks Are Part of the Process

Sometimes, it’s the tightening chest or the shallow breath. And other times, it’s intrusive and unwanted thoughts and memories or the feeling of a cold sweat and a nervous reaction at the sight of something you thought you had gotten used to. Or it’s that intense, unbelievable, inescapable craving.

Mental health setbacks, or flare-ups, are an unfortunate and nearly inescapable fact of struggling with a mental health issue. Whether you struggle with psychosis, depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma, or other facets of mental illness, it’s important to understand that treatment sadly isn’t as easy as a one-and-done, and in many cases, the art lies in learning to cope and lead a good life with – or despite – your diagnosis.

You’re not alone, and you’re not weak, nor are you a failure. You certainly are not getting worse, and having a mental health setback isn’t really a “setback.”

Let’s talk about it.

Life is a Rollercoaster, and Perspective Matters

Mental health is a complicated and abstract concept. It’s hard to set a baseline for human emotion, behavior, and thinking. While we constantly seek to improve the accuracy of the consensus on what should be defined as the boundary between pathological and not pathological, everyone has ups and downs.

The human condition, even while “normal,” includes a great breadth of emotions that span from nonsensically and inexplicably tragic to unfathomably furious and incongruent with reality. You don’t have to be “ill” to seek help, and you don’t have to struggle with your mental health to be hurting.

But as it stands, some people suffer differently and more deeply than others. Mental health issues like depression are not like ordinary sadness or grief. Anxiety is more than a moment of irrational fear. And psychosis is more troubling than feelings of grandeur or fantasy.

For people with diagnosed mental health issues, life’s ups and downs can hit harder and be more difficult to cope with. But that does not necessarily mean that you are failing to deal with your mental health or that treating conditions like depression and anxiety is a Sisyphean task, to begin with. It’s important to remember, throughout it all, that you are always working on getting better – and when things aren’t better, it’s still all part of the process.

Why Are You Experiencing a Flare-Up?

Mental health conditions can flare up in symptoms in response to stress. The mind works a lot like the body in this regard. We know that risk factors that correlate with greater life stress also tend to correlate with higher rates of perceived mental health problems – people who lead harsher, tougher lives tend to struggle more with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma, whether it’s through poverty, war, personal anguish, natural disasters, or other factors.

In much the same way, these stressors can also cause people who are managing their mental health to experience stronger, worse symptoms. It’s normal to struggle more deeply with your symptoms of anxiety around the holidays when the financial strain of the holiday season hits. It’s normal to have a harder time coping with depression when school ramps up around the midterms.

Sometimes There Are No Reasons

Mental health setbacks or flare-ups can occur for any reason, but also no discernable reasons at all. This is one of the most frustrating realities of living with a mental health problem, especially in the early years. Your symptoms will often respond negatively to stress. However, they might also get worse out of the blue, or at least with no discernable stressors.

Stressors and random factors are uncontrollable and part of life. You cannot blame yourself for these “setbacks,” no matter how guilty you feel. It’s infuriating to find control after struggling for years, only to experience a slump and feel like you’ve rolled down a hill you spent months climbing.

But it’s also important to note that you haven’t rolled nearly as far as you might think you did.

If you’ve spent time in treatment, and learned more about how your symptoms affect you and how to cope, then you will have a leg up on your condition as you seek therapy again. You’ll have the experience that comes with treatment and a better understanding of your own mental health.

You will become better at reading the signs of an oncoming flare-up and recognizing your specific triggers. Over time, the factors behind your symptoms will seem less and less random as you build up your resilience against stress and learn ways that you can personally affect your mental health positively and protect it against future flare-ups.

Preventing a Mental Health Setback

Preventing mental health setbacks can be difficult, but there are things you can do to minimize your symptoms and stressors and catch the signs of an oncoming flare-up before it gets worse, such as:

Dealing With a Relapse

Relapses are a “flare-up” of addiction symptoms. But in the same way, it’s important to turn every relapse into an opportunity – an opportunity to identify unique triggers, understand the circumstances around your relapse, and realize what changes you need to make.

It can be excruciatingly difficult to get back on the wagon after an addiction setback. But that is where support becomes critical – whether from friends and relatives or from your sober community members and support group. No one who has been there will judge you for your misstep. For many people – most, even – it’s part of the process.

What’s important is that you keep help close at hand, always. Talk to your close friends and family members about recognizing symptoms and staging an intervention whenever necessary. Eliminate and cope with the stressors and triggers around you. Continue to go to therapy even when you feel better. And don’t ignore the signs when you don’t feel better anymore.

Get Teen Mental Health Treatment at Visions

If you or your teen is struggling with overcoming a mental health disorder, call us today at Visions Treatment Centers. We are here to help.

Categories
Depression Mental Health Mood Disorders

Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder in Teens this Season

Holiday stress is a common phenomenon, even among teens. But there’s a stark difference between feeling melancholy over the winter break and developing a cycle of depression around the time snow starts falling. This feeling may be more than just being a little down and could be the result of seasonal affective disorder in teens.

While we don’t fully understand how and why some people are susceptible to mood disorder symptoms during the winter months (and, in some cases, over the summer holidays), we do know that seasonal affective disorder in teens is a very real and underdiagnosed mental health problem.

Here is what you should know.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a mood disorder characterized by symptoms tied to a change in season, usually either the peak of summer or the peak of winter.

Most people recognize SAD as the “winter blues,” but it is a little more serious than that – while holiday stress is common, only an estimated 10 million Americans are diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder each year, and there are multiple strict prerequisites for a professional diagnosis.

In other words, even if you tend to feel a little more stressed over the holidays, it might not necessarily be SAD – especially if there are other conflating factors or comorbid conditions that might explain your symptoms.

Treatments for SAD differ from case to case but are unique when compared to other mood disorders. For example, teens who develop SAD may be prescribed light therapy, a special type of therapy involving simulated sunlight. While seasonal affective disorder is its own condition, it shares many similarities with other mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder, cyclothymia, and bipolar disorder.

Furthermore, teens with a history of comorbid conditions are much more likely to struggle with seasonal affective disorder, especially conditions like:

Because seasonal affective disorder usually happens at the peak of winter, many researchers believe that sunlight – or the lack thereof – plays a primary role in the development of this mental health condition. However, that doesn’t mean your teen’s symptoms will improve with light therapy alone.

What Does Seasonal Affective Disorder in Teens Look Like?

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder in teens will usually be like those of major depressive disorder. Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental health problems in the world and the most well-known mood disorder. Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Mental and physical fatigue
  • Unexplained aches and pains (especially stomach pain) and occasional nausea
  • Lack of joy (anhedonia)
  • Loss of interest in old hobbies
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Low mood/sadness as the new “baseline” for normal emotions
  • Lowered pain threshold, more likely to experience chronic pains
  • Emotional outbursts and increased irritability/agitation
  • Rapid weight gain or rapid weight loss
  • Loss of focus and lowered concentration
  • Signs of self-harm or suicidal ideation
  • Frequently discussing/fantasizing about death or disappearing
  • And more

A diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder in teens requires a thorough psychological assessment. Any teen with depressive symptoms over the course of a seasonal shift may be a candidate for seasonal affective disorder, but to be more specific, a diagnosis is usually only met when:

  • A teen meets most of the criteria for major depressive disorder.
  • A teen’s depressive symptoms occur almost exclusively during specific seasons, such as only feeling depressed or showing signs of major depression in the summer or the winter.
  • A teen’s seasonal shift in mood has been occurring for at least two years in a row. Symptoms of SAD can occur sporadically, meaning they become worse in some years or don’t flare up at all in some years. Therefore, the validity of this specific point might depend on a teen’s mental health history and individual circumstances.
  • A teen’s depressive episodes must be more severe or frequent during the shift in seasons in order to be distinguished as seasonal affective disorder. This is important if a teen has already experienced other mood disorders or has had a history of mental health problems.

Therapy and Other Treatment Options

Seasonal affective disorder is thought to be at least somewhat related to the body’s ability to regulate mood through the release of certain neurotransmitters or brain chemicals like serotonin. The release of serotonin may be linked to the body’s circadian rhythm and may be dependent on a healthy supply of sunlight.

Long-term sunlight deprivation, especially in teens with rigid school schedules (where they might wake up and be in school before the sun has risen and be back on their way home after sunset), can affect a teen’s hormone and neurotransmitter production and may affect their mood and mentality as a result.

Outside of any potential neurochemical origins, seasonal affective disorder in teens might also be linked to an increase in holiday-related stressors, both over the winter and summer months. The weather alone can be a factor – it being consistently too warm or too cold – as are elements such as family stress related to the holidays, financial stressors, or even an increase in rates of domestic violence towards the end of the year.

Addressing seasonal affective disorder in teens means figuring out what any individual teen’s circumstances are. There are no quick fixes or effective cookie-cutter cures – a treatment plan must take a teen’s living situation, concurrent physical and mental health issues, as well as family history into consideration. Here are a few different modalities and common treatments.

  • Light Therapy – For teens with winter-based seasonal affective disorder, a doctor may prescribe a special light box for frequent light therapy. 
  • Medication – Depending on the severity of the condition and comorbid conditions, a teen with seasonal affective disorder may be prescribed antidepressants or other psychiatric medication.
  • Talk Therapy – Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the golden standard for depressive psychotherapy and can also help reduce symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
  • Sleep Hygiene – Sleep habits can break down over the peak winter or summer months, which can affect mood and mental health. Better sleep hygiene can improve both mental and emotional functioning.

Can Seasonal Affective Disorder Be Prevented?

If a teen’s symptoms tend to ramp up towards the winter months (or the summer months), then a professional mental health treatment plan can be developed to plan ahead accordingly and start addressing the issue before it flares back up.

In some cases, this can mean starting treatment even before the depression usually starts to come back. This can help some teens avoid an episode of seasonal affective disorder altogether.

For more information about depression or seasonal affective disorder, contact Visions Treatment Centers.

Categories
ADHD Mental Health

Common Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Teens and Children

Neurodevelopmental disorders are a class of mental and physical health conditions characterized by delayed or unmet developmental milestones and changes in the way a child’s brain develops in comparison to their peers. And while there are many conditions that fall under this umbrella, there are some common neurodevelopmental disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), that are more recognizable.

When Can a Neurodevelopmental Disorder Impact a Teen?

Neurodevelopmental disorders can impact a child, teen, and adult in different ways over the years, depending on the type of condition they have and the severity of their symptoms.

Most neurodevelopmental disorders begin to affect a person early in their life, and some neurodevelopmental conditions can be diagnosed as early as a few years into a child’s development, depending on certain key signs and symptoms. Neurodevelopmental disorders are recognized under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), a diagnostics manual for mental disorders.

Other Mental Health Disorders vs. Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Neurodevelopmental disorders are somewhat unique in that they often blend the difference between a mental health issue and a physical health issue. In many instances, a neurodevelopmental disorder is a bit of both.

Many neurodevelopmental disorders begin in the womb or in the earliest childhood and are caused by inherent risk factors (such as genes) as well as environmental risks, from chemical exposure to severe stress.

Originating from Brain Development

All neurodevelopmental disorders can be traced to the brain’s development, unlike some other mental disorders.

While many mental health conditions are affected by brain health, research has shown us that some conditions, like anxiety or depression, are not necessarily strictly linked to differences in brain structure or brain chemistry, even though these can be contributing factors in some cases. In other words, some people are depressed because of an inherent genetic risk and a difference in the way their brain processes mood. Others struggle with their mental health symptoms due to a wealth of other conflating factors, from trauma to chronic stress.

Are Neurodevelopmental Disorders Physical?

Neurodevelopmental disorders help us better understand the way mental and physical disorders are ultimately tied together.

Even if some mental disorders don’t have a clear physical origin, there are both mental and physical symptoms to a condition like anxiety or depression.

Panic attacks and depression-related chronic pains are definite physical symptoms caused by mental health issues. Many people who seek treatment for a mental disorder need a treatment plan that addresses a system of co-occurring health problems, rather than a limited window of symptoms.

In that context, neurodevelopmental disorders are both physical and mental and may require a treatment plan that tackles both types of symptoms.

Common Neurodevelopmental Disorders

There are a few different ways in which a child’s brain can lag behind their peers and cause health issues. Here are some of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders.

1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorder is a diagnosis for a wide variety of symptoms. Any child diagnosed with autism will require a treatment plan tailored to their circumstances and symptoms.

Autism is characterized by difficulties with both verbal and non-verbal social cues, sensory overload, physical stimulation and fidgeting, and strange speech.

Specific symptoms and severity can differ wildly. Autism does not affect cognition or intelligence. In fact, some children and teens with autism have exceptionally good recollections and are hyper-focused on specific interests. There are no physical tests for autism, but a pediatrician and psychiatrist can diagnose autism in a child based on certain behavioral tests and developmental signs.

2. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is another common neurodevelopmental disorder, inhibiting executive functioning, motivation, attention, and mood control. ADHD often co-occurs with conditions like depression and anxiety, and symptoms differ in childhood versus adulthood.

Children with ADHD tend to fidget, struggle to pay attention, can be easily irritable, and may be inclined to follow their own interests exclusively. They may have normal or even above-average intelligence but cannot always direct their focus where it is needed. As adults, people with ADHD may learn to overcome many of their symptoms but may still struggle compared to peers with focus, motivation, and time management.

3. Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by difficulty with physical coordination. Kids who develop cerebral palsy will often have normal intelligence but can struggle with speech, in addition to other basic tasks such as walking, eating, and bladder control.

There are different types and levels of severity, with corresponding levels of required support. There are no ways to reverse cerebral palsy, but there are therapies and tools to mitigate its effects – from strength training to specialized walking tools – and help teens gain as much independence as possible.

4. Neurodevelopmental Motor Disorders

Neurodevelopmental motor disorders also affect a child’s movement, but in different ways than cerebral palsy. While cerebral palsy specifically refers to a condition caused by some type of damage to the brain during development, neurodevelopmental motor disorders are characterized by involuntary movements and speech, also known as tics. These can be verbal tics as well as physical tics. A commonly known neurodevelopmental motor disorder is Tourettes.

5. Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities range from dyslexia to dyscalculia and heavily affect a child’s capacity to understand and process information.

Children and teens with learning disabilities usually have the same level of intelligence as their peers but may be held back or struggle academically because they aren’t catered to and cannot learn the material at the same speed or in the same way as their friends. The most common learning disabilities center around reading, writing, and performing math.

6. Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disabilities may affect a child’s cognitive abilities, such as their ability to retain information, remember things, understand concepts, or solve problems.

Furthermore, intellectual disabilities differ in severity. Some children and teens are years behind their peers but can still develop to become independent in adulthood, especially with treatment. Others may require a legal guardian or conservatorship, even after they become adults, to make financial and medical decisions, as well as other key decisions.

Identifying and seeking treatment for an intellectual disability as early as possible can help a child develop, but their brain may be limited in its capacity to adapt. There are different causes of intellectual disabilities, including Down syndromefragile X syndrome, and viral infections.

Are Neurodevelopmental Disorders Treatable?

It is important to define treatable in the context of a neurodevelopmental disorder. Most of these conditions are lifelong, although they vary in severity to such a degree that a person can “outgrow” them.

In most cases, however, this simply means that a teen or adult learns to cope with the symptoms of their condition and appear neurotypical, even if they continue to be naturally disadvantaged in our neurotypical world when compared with their peers and have otherwise learned to compensate through behavioral and cognitive adaptation. Sometimes, this is due to treatment and training. Other times, it’s due to life experiences. Sadly, many other kids don’t cope as well and will continue to struggle with their disorder without the necessary help.

Some treatments can help children and teens become independent and lead long lives with normal levels of social and medical support. Other conditions may require lifelong support through friends and family. That does not make life any less worth living, even if it’s a different life than most people lead.

Children and teens with severe neurodevelopmental conditions can still learn to adapt to a significant degree and make progress over the years. They can see life through a lens most people never will and can even develop unique skills as a result of their circumstances.

Don’t Give Up

It’s important not to give up on someone with a neurodevelopmental condition. Their symptoms could improve, or they can learn to adapt to their circumstances in ways that weren’t anticipated. Kids have learned to do things with cerebral palsy that some doctors told them they would never do. And as time goes on, research into neurodevelopmental conditions continues to provide alternative treatments and potential future treatments to help older teens and adults adapt in new ways.

For more information about treatment for neurodevelopmental disorders in teens, visit Visions Treatment Centers.

Categories
Mental Health

6 Art Therapy Activities for Teens Dealing with Mental Disorders

Art therapy activities for teens might not be one of the first modalities that come to mind when working to treat and address mental health issues, but it is an often-underrated tool in the management of depressive symptoms, anxiety problems, low self-esteem, and stress.

The therapeutic value of engaging with art in any shape or form – from performance arts like acting and dancing to visual art, such as sketching or sculpting – is immense. Research shows that the use of art in a clinical setting helps improve mental health, including cognitive and sensory functions, improve self-awareness, improve emotional resilience, and enhance critical social skills. Art therapy also helps individuals hone their stress management skills and develop healthier alternatives to maladaptive coping styles.

How Do Art Therapy Activities for Teens Help?

Implementing art therapy is not quite as simple as sitting someone down with a sketch pad and a piece of charcoal. The therapeutic element comes in the form of professional guidance – trained therapists use special prompts and cues to engage with patients and help them utilize art therapy to productively work through specific fears, issues, questions, obsessions, and behavioral issues.

Utilizing art to relate to a patient who might not get the most out of a typical talk therapy session is one of the crucial benefits of art therapy – because it does not rely on a rigid dialectic system and is applicable across hundreds of mediums, it is one of the most versatile modalities in a therapist’s toolkit.

Many teens are young enough to have talents they’ve never tapped into, and art therapy allows them to not only continue to explore their fears and worries in ways they might not previously have been able to, but it may also prove to unlock a lifelong passion for a medium they might never have heard of, or shown any interest in.

A teen with no experience in drawing might find themselves enraptured by the tactile experience of working with coffee stains, stamps, collages, or even decorative food items. The flexibility and total creativity embodied in art therapy mean teens can find ways to express themselves with no filters, restrictions, or worries.

Different Ways to Apply Art Therapy Activities for Teens

While there are dozens of ways to utilize art therapy activities for teens in a therapeutic setting, some are more commonplace and popular than others. Let’s explore a few different art modalities and how they can help teens in treatment.

1. Journaling

Yes, journaling can be considered art therapy and can play an important role as an introductory element to self-reflection and mindfulness in treatment. Therapeutic journaling can mean a lot of things depending on the direction the patient wants to take the activity – some people turn to journaling as a means of authoring a private diary to compile their thoughts and readdress their impulses, intrusive compulsions, or uncontrolled behaviors. Some people take to journaling as a stream-of-consciousness stress relief tool, being able to “let loose” on paper.

Journaling doesn’t need to involve first-person accounts. It can be prose, a third-person narrative, or a pseudo-autobiographical work. Imagine telling a story based on your experiences but with a fantastical element to work towards a narrative realization you might not have had if you simply retold what happened. Life isn’t a narrative, but we can practice learning to draw positive conclusions from our struggles through such an approach.

The ability to write creatively isn’t a prerequisite for successful journaling. In some cases, teens can benefit from journaling simply by using it to create lists – to-do lists, whether daily, short-term or even long-term, can help people prioritize their tasks and bring order into their day-to-day.

2. Photography

The vast majority of art therapy is visual. But it doesn’t always need to come in the form of drawing or painting. Some people prefer to use a frame – such as a photograph – to create their art.

Photography can be an excellent exercise in the importance of perspective, helping teens learn to shape a situation into an image they can be proud of and, in turn, find ways to identify positive aspects in their own life.

Photography as an art can also be something teens can engage in wherever and whenever they want, using tools they might already have at their disposal – while it’s no replacement for a DSLR, most modern-day smartphones are capable of some truly surprisingly high-quality photography and can serve as an entryway to more complicated photoshoots in the future.

3. Drawing and Painting

Over 80 percent of art therapy research focuses on the benefits of visual art mediums like drawing or painting, with various materials, from watercolors to oil or acrylic.

Not only can visual art help teens express themselves in ways they might not be comfortable doing during talk therapy, but it can be a useful stress relief option with no ill side effects while significantly improving mental well-being.

4. Other Forms of Visual Art

Art is free form, and there are many ways your teen might find relief or comfort in creating something of their own, whether it’s through 3D computer graphics programs like Blender or Source Filmmaker or physical sculpting, woodworking, carpentry, and so on.

5. Making or Playing Music

While some of the mechanisms behind how music helps address depression and other mental health issues remain unknown, we do know that music therapy can be a tremendous tool in treating mental health symptoms and improving the well-being of patients with conditions like depression and anxiety.

Most teens will not be surprised to hear that what kind of music you listen to can have an effect on how you feel, both positive and negative. But there’s a special interaction between mental health and playing an instrument, whether that means creating your own music or playing a melody you know or have learned.

6. Drama and Acting

Acting is art, and as a therapeutic method, acting has far more research behind it than you might expect. Acting for therapy – usually in the form of group roleplays, one-on-one roleplaying, or even in the context of preparing for a dramatic play – can help teens and patients express themselves in ways they might not otherwise feel comfortable. By playing a role rather than being yourself, you can inject parts of your own character into the role without feeling compromised.

This allows for a unique form of self-expression where a teen can freely explore their emotions without feeling like they are betraying their innermost secrets.

Get Mental Health Treatment for Teens

Art therapy activities for teens are most useful when treated as a modality – as one part of a greater whole.

For more information about teen mental health and treatment, visit Visions Treatment Centers today.

Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Parenting

Red Flags in Teenage Behavior to Look Out For

We’ve heard the jokes and the comparisons before – teenagers are like little aliens, their moods change on a whim, their logic is incomprehensible, they’re incredibly difficult to deal with, and so on. While it’s true that most adults won’t remember what it’s like to think like teens, most teenage behavior still follows some sort of logic – even when it’s purely instinctual or based on very short-term benefits. But what if becomes more than that? What about the red flags in teenage behavior that nobody told you about, you know, the ones that could create a mental health condition later on?

Being a teen means transitioning from childhood into fully matured adulthood – a process that begins with the onset of puberty but lasts well into a person’s early 20s or even later. With that process come a lot of bumps and challenges. Differentiating between these and real mental health issues – which are becoming increasingly common for teens – can be difficult.

Outside of being boneheaded or self-centered, teens will often struggle with emotional maturity, consistency, and long-term planning. Sometimes, “normal” teen behavior can be conflated with a serious behavioral issue, and in other cases, it is a precursor to a serious behavioral or mental health problem.

Even if your teen infuriates you, there’s a line to draw between annoying or troublesome teen behavior and genuine mental health issues. Learning to recognize those is important, whether as a parent, friend, or close relative.

What is Normal Teenage Behavior?

Defining normal behavior is difficult. There’s the societal norm, then there’s the researched average, and the matter of what feels normal from an individual, anecdotal, or cultural perspective.

Most people can agree on a few general things about teens – such as their shortsightedness or lack of emotional maturity – but there are case-by-case differences on where normal ends and where red flags in teenage behavior may begin. There’s no real way to “treat” a teen’s sexual drive, their will towards rebellion, or their curiosity for the taboo.

For example, our laws make it illegal for kids to get drunk or engage in sexual intercourse before a certain age.

Yet despite these laws, we know that the average drinking age in the US (i.e., age of first drink) is 13-14 and that half of the population has their first sexual encounter between the ages of 16 and 20. Teens do things they shouldn’t do all the time, and we need to intervene on a case-by-case basis. But that doesn’t mean we pathologize every teen’s mistakes.

In other words, we just need to draw a line between normal individual expression and signs of pathology. In the case of the latter, your teen might be struggling with something they can’t deal with on their own, and getting help as soon as possible gives them the best chance of fighting it.

It’s the difference between trying out a beer and becoming a heavy drinker by age 17. It’s the difference between trespassing for a “prank” and routinely engaging in dangerous and illegal activities. And it’s the difference between having a teen’s typical short temper and becoming violent towards others on multiple occasions.

Important Red Flags in Teenage Behavior to Spot

Let’s start with the red flags. These are signs of a serious problem. In other words, if your teen is exhibiting one or more of these red flags, you should consider speaking with a professional and talking to your teen about counseling or therapy. These red flags include the following:

  • Heavy drinking and other signs of repeated drug use.
  • Knowingly engaging in illegal activities, including speeding or vandalism.
  • Becoming violent towards other teens or people on multiple occasions.
  • Often referencing death and talking about death, especially what it would be like if they died.
  • Frequent signs of physical injury and hiding/lying about cuts and bruises.
  • Burns and other signs of self-harm.
  • Suicide attempts.

Red flags are meant to highlight problems that most teens don’t have. While a large number of teens have had a beer or tried marijuana, most teens are not habitual users of “hard drugs” or struggling with addiction. Most teens aren’t engaged in routine illegal activities, whether it’s vandalism or theft. Most teens aren’t routinely assaulting each other or struggling with suicidal thoughts.

These are serious behavioral issues that warrant a professional opinion. There’s no point trying to diagnose your teen’s behavior yourself – it might look like addiction, but it might be a combination of drug use with a mediating mental health condition, like social anxiety. It might look like depression, but it might, in fact, be a bipolar disorder, which may require a different treatment plan.

If you’ve observed certain red flags in your teen, then seeking professional help is important.

Other Important Signs

However, you don’t need to wait for a teen to show red flags to be concerned for your teen’s mental or physical well-being.

Some of the behaviors listed below might indicate a mental health problem or personal issue, but they may also indicate that your teen needs someone to talk to or that they are finding themselves engaged in unhealthy coping mechanisms for their schoolwork or personal life. These behaviors include:

  • Illicit drug use.
  • Losing interest in old hobbies.
  • Rapid weight loss (or rapid weight gain) at an unhealthy scale.
  • Overexercising (i.e., to the point of repeated injury and/or hospitalization).
  • Social isolation (withdrawing from others).
  • Spending inordinate amounts of time online (never going outside or logging off).
  • Sudden and severe mood swings.
  • Struggling to enjoy things and being gloomy most of the time.
  • Having a very quick temper and becoming easily frustrated at minor things.

Talk About It and Get Help

Some people worry about pathologizing normal instances of negative behavior – for example, it’s normal to act out after a messy breakup or feel terrible after the loss of a loved one. Sometimes, we do things that aren’t in our best interest, and that goes for doubly for teens. We all cope in our own ways, and it isn’t always clean.

But the concern is still valid, even when there’s a “good reason” your teen might be acting a certain way. They may “snap out of it,” or it might start them down a seriously dark road as their symptoms get worse. If these behaviors apply to your loved one, keep an eye on them, and see if things get better. If they don’t – there’s still plenty of time to talk to them about getting real help.

Mental health issues are difficult to deal with, and many of them have their onset in the late teen years. Understanding why your teen is acting the way they are is important – but oftentimes, they might not even have a reason. Things like depression and anxiety can and often do develop without good cause, and their symptoms come and go without a specific trigger. If you’re concerned for yourself or your loved one, be sure to talk to a professional. At Visions Treatment Centers, we are here to help.

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