Mental Health Treatment Helps Teens Become The Best Version of Themselves
The past year has been eventful, to say the least.
The events started early. The early spring brought the pandemic. The summer brought months of protests around racial and social justice. The fall brought the national elections, followed by upheaval around various election-related events – too numerous, divisive, and contentious to name here. We mention all this to validate something for you. If the cumulative stress, tumult, and uncertainty of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 had a negative impact on your emotional and psychological health, you’re not alone.
Millions of us experienced more stress in 2020 than we can remember in our lives.
It’s taking a toll on us, as adults. Rates of mental health disorders, alcohol and drug use, and general stress are up across the board.
It’s not only adults.
Our kids feel it too – especially our teenagers.
In fact, two nationwide surveys – here and here – that compared symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress levels in high school students and young people before and after the pandemic found the following:
- 80% of people 18-35 reported increased depressive symptoms
- 61% of people 18-35 reported moderate to severe anxiety
- 56% of high school students said stress levels were higher than before the pandemic
- 65% of high school students said they were not confident in their ability to handle stress productively.
- 31.5% of high school students reported increased worry about their mental health compared to before the pandemic
And a new report from UCLA and the California Health Interview Survey shows that close to half of teenagers in California experienced mental health challenges in 2020:
- 45.4% reported psychological distress
- 30% of 11th graders reported feeling sad or hopeless
- 27% of 9th graders reported sad and hopeless
We have a message for everyone feeling the stress of 2020: treatment works.
Mental Health Treatment for Teens in Los Angeles: What are Your Options?
This is a broad topic, so we’ll start with something basic that’s important for anyone looking for mental health treatment for their teenager to understand: levels of care. The level of care your teenager needs depends on several factors, including the result of a full evaluation from a mental health professional, the severity and duration of the mental health symptoms, their level of acuity (immediate seriousness), and whether your teen has received treatment before.
If you think your teen needs mental health treatment, we recommend arranging a full evaluation from a mental health professional. These evaluations are called biopsychosocial assessments, and, as implied by the name, they examine the biological, psychological, and social factors at play in the life of your teen, and determine their impact on their mental health.
After a full evaluation, a qualified, licensed mental health professional will most likely recommend one of the levels of care below. We list them here from the least immersive to the most immersive. To clarify, least immersive means the level of care that’s the least intense and takes up the fewest number of hours per week, while most immersive means that level of care that’s the most intense and takes up the greatest number of hours per week.
Here they are:
Outpatient Programs (OP)
If your teen receives outpatient treatment, they go to a psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor in an office setting once or twice a week. Outpatient treatment is the most common starting point for a teen who needs mental health treatment. Mental health professionals typically recommend outpatient programs for teens with symptoms that do not prevent them from going to school, living at home, or participating in most aspects of teen life.
IOP programs are the next level of treatment up after OP programs. If your teen receives treatment in an IOP program, they go to treatment for a half-day, three to five times a week. IOP programs can happen in an office setting or at a specialized teen treatment center, but they happen most often at a treatment center. If your teen experiences mental health symptoms that are significant and disruptive – but do not prevent them from functioning at home or school – are often good candidates for IOP programs.
PHP programs are the next level of treatment up after IOP programs. If your teen receives treatment in a PHP program, they go to treatment five days a week. PHP programs almost always happen in a specialized teen treatment facility. If your teen experiences mental health symptoms that significantly disrupt day-to-day living and prevent them from functioning in school, but they can still live at home, they may be good candidates for treatment in a PHP program. In most cases, teens in PHP programs do not live at the treatment facility but continue to live at home during treatment.
Residential Treatment Programs (RTC)
RTC programs are the next level of treatment up after PHP programs. They’re the most immersive level of treatment we address here. If your teen receives treatment at a residential behavioral treatment center, they live full-time, on-site at the treatment facility. If your teen needs 24/7 support and monitoring and experiences symptoms so severe they prevent them from living at home and going to school, a mental health professional may recommend an RTC program. RTC programs give your teen the time needed to concentrate on recovery and develop the skills necessary to return to home and school life.
Those are the different levels of care available to your teen. We did leave one out, however: inpatient hospitalization. That’s another level of immersion altogether. It’s for teens whose symptoms pose an immediate danger to themselves or others. Inpatient hospitalization focuses on safety and stability. When medical staff determines a teen is safe and stable enough to start treatment, they typically step down – the term for going from one level of care to a less immersive level of care – to an RTC program or a PHP program.
Back to the levels of care we describe: OP, IOP, PHP, and RTC. We told you how they work, timewise. The next question we address here is this:
What happens in the different levels of care?
We’ll tell you now.
Mental Health Treatment for Teens in Los Angeles: What Happens in the Different Levels of Care?
The top mental health treatment centers for teens apply what’s called the integrated treatment model. Integrated treatment typically involves a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, medication, lifestyle modifications, and complementary approaches such as mindfulness, expressive therapy, experiential activities, and community support.
- Individual therapy, which may include:
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Mindfulness based cognitive behavioral therapy (MBCBT)
- Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
- Behavioral Activation (BA)
- Motivational Interviewing (MI)
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT)
- Group therapy, which may include:
- Peer Group CBT
- Peer Group DBT
- Family therapy, which may include:
- Multi-family groups
- Parenting groups
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction, which may include
- Experiential therapies may include:
- General exercise
- Equine therapy (horses)
- Expressive therapies, which may include:
- Art therapy
- Creative writing
- Community support, which may include:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
- Medication (as needed)
Those are the different approaches to treatment you’re most likely to find at any top-quality mental health treatment center in the Los Angeles area.
Before we move on, we want to clarify what we mean by integrated treatment, and briefly discuss how and why it might work for your teenager.
What is Integrated Treatment?
Integrated treatment was initially identified as the best possible approach to treatment for people diagnosed with a mental health disorder and an alcohol/substance use disorder (AUD/SUD) at the same time. Experts found that when one disorder was treated without treating the other, outcomes were mixed, but when mental health and addiction disorders were treated simultaneously, outcomes improved dramatically.
The most common mental health disorders that co-occur with AUD/SUD are:
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Eating disorders
This knowledge about treatment for co-occurring disorders is crucial for parents in light of the following statistics, published in the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2019 NSDUH):
- 18.7% of adolescents had either substance use disorder (SUD) or major depressive episode (MDE)
- 1.77% of adolescents had SUD and MDE. That small percentage translates to big numbers. It represents close to half a million adolescents.
- 66.3% of adolescents with SUD and MDE received treatment for one or the other, but not both
- 2.4% received treatment for SUD
- 1.3% received treatment for both SUD and MDE
Here’s the final statistic we want you to understand, though:
33.7% of high school students diagnosed with SUD and MDE did not receive treatment for SUD or MDE –that’s close to 134,000 adolescents.
Integrated treatment is about more than co-occurring disorders. It means clinicians work to seamlessly combine various therapeutic approaches into a personalized treatment plan that addresses all areas of your teenager’s life. The factors that contribute to your teen’s mental health disorder may involve alcohol or substance use, and they may not. Either way, integrated treatment means that clinicians consider all factors – biological, psychological, social (including family) – when designing an approach to care and formulating a comprehensive, integrated treatment plan.
Integrated treatment plans help teens diagnosed with:
- Mood Disorders:
- Depressive Disorders
- Bipolar Disorder
- Mood Disorder + Substance Use Disorder
- Anxiety Disorders:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Behavioral Disorders:
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)
- Non-Suicidal Self-Injury
- Suicidal Ideation*
*NOTE: If you think your teen is suicidal and presents an imminent danger to themselves or others, call 911 or take them to the emergency room immediately. Do not wait. Seek professional support right away.
So far in this article, we’ve discussed the current state of mental health among adolescents in the U.S. and defined the various levels of care and types of treatment you’re likely to find in mental health treatment centers for teens in the Los Angeles area. We’ve also defined integrated care and outlined the mental health and/or alcohol/substance use disorders that respond positively to integrated treatment.
We’ll end this article by talking about one type of treatment that evidence proves effective for teens with mental health issues. Clinicians, teens, and families report that this approach can work for teens with high emotional reactivity, low impulse control, and severe mental health symptoms – when other approaches do not.
It’s called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a relatively new approach to mental health treatment. It was developed in the 1980s by Dr. Marsha Linehan for patients with severe emotional disorders that did not respond well to traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Over the past forty years, Dr. Linehan and her colleagues – supported by scores of peer-reviewed journal articles with reliable clinical data – refined their approach and tailored it for adolescents. In 2021, it’s recognized as an effective treatment that helps turn extreme, negative, life-interrupting behaviors into effective, positive, life-affirming ones.
When your teen receives DBT treatment from a licensed, trained, therapist or counselor certified in adolescent DBT, they learn practical skills that can help them manage their disorder – and change their lives for the better.
DBT for adolescents includes five core modules:
Mindfulness helps your teen improve their awareness of and focus on the present moment.
2. Emotion Regulation
Emotion Regulation helps your teen manage turbulent and disruptive feelings.
3. Interpersonal Effectiveness
Interpersonal Effectiveness helps your teen learn to manage and create healthy, productive relationships in their lives.
4. Distress Tolerance
Distress tolerance teaches your teen real skills to help handle stressful situations, relationships, and emotions.
5. Walking the Middle Path
Walking The Middle Path teaches your teen to find the balance between extreme states of thought, emotion, and behavior. It also teaches teens to see the value of opposing viewpoints and reconcile those into a nuanced and refined picture of the world.
If your teen needs substantial support learning to process emotions, control impulses, improve self-esteem, and manage the symptoms of a mental health disorder, evidence shows that adolescent DBT is effective where other treatments are often ineffective.
In the Los Angeles area, you can find two types of DBT programs for teens: Comprehensive DBT programs and DBT-Informed programs. To learn more about how DBT for teens works, please read our article Comprehensive DBT and DBT-Informed Programs for Teens. To learn more about various therapeutic approaches you can find in mental health treatment centers in Los Angeles, please read our article Therapy for Teenage Depression: Understanding CBT, DBT, and Motivational Interviewing.
How Mental Health Treatment Helps Teens
The purpose of mental health treatment is to help your teen overcome their mental health disorder and create a life of their choosing. The types of therapy we mention above – individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, experiential therapy, expressive therapy – all work to support that overriding purpose: to give teens their life back. The specific type of treatment we highlight – adolescent DBT – is particularly effective if your teen experiences chaotic unpredictable emotions, high emotional reactivity, severe symptoms, and has tried other approaches to treatment with limited success.
At a mental health treatment center for teens – whether your teen has severe and volatile symptoms or not – clinicians help your teen by teaching them effective tools to manage their condition. They learn techniques that work at school, at home, and with peers. Your teen can learn that they’re more than their diagnosis and that with help, they can manage their mental health and live life in the manner of their choosing. In short, treatment helps teens learn, grow, heal – and become the best version of themselves.
Finding Help: Resources
If you’re looking for mental health treatment in Los Angeles for your teen, please navigate to our page How to Find the Best Treatment Programs for Teens and download our helpful handbook, A Parent’s Guide to Mental Health Treatment for Teens.
In addition, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is an excellent resource for locating licensed and qualified psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors in your area. Both the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness also provide and high-quality online resources, ready and waiting for you right now.