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School or Mental Health Treatment? The Difficult Dilemma

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
Meet The Team >

So. Your teen needs professional treatment for certain mental health issues. At an adolescent rehab center. You’re fine with them going, except for one major issue:

You don’t want them to fall behind in school.

We get you. Education is important. Leaving school for weeks at a time can make your teen fall behind in his schoolwork, which can ultimately affect his academic year. Perhaps, if he’s already a senior in high school, it might even delay his graduation.

But—and this is a big but—You know what’s even more important than school? Your teen’s mental health.

Yup, we said it.

Mental Health Comes Before School

The main reason why we urge you to send your teen to a mental health treatment program is because mental health issues should not be ignored. Untreated mental health, substance abuse or behavioral issues can result in serious dysfunction—if not death. Untreated heroin addiction, for example, can quickly lead to a fatality. Undergoing a trauma –and ignoring it – can lead to full-blown PTSD, which becomes harder and harder to treat the longer you wait. Untreated depression or anxiety can lead to suicide. And so on. As you can see, we’re dealing with life-and-death situations here. And it’s your child we’re talking about.

Besides, if your teen is struggling with a certain mental health problem, they might not be able to give it their all at school anyway. Which you might have already seen. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, ADHD, ODD, DMDD, PTSD…many teens who struggle with these symptoms find it hard to concentrate in class, adequately complete homework and other projects, or generally keep up with grades. Plus, they may be having trouble with their classmates, peers or teachers. For these reasons, some teens are not even able to stay in school!

On the other hand, after they attend a teen treatment center, most of these issues may be drastically improved, if not eliminated. In the long run, they may even do better academically once they get treatment for their mental health issues.

Teen Rehab Centers Want Your Teen to Succeed Academically, Too

It’s also important to realize that just because your teen might be going to a residential treatment center doesn’t mean they’ll be cut off completely from schoolwork. It’s not usually an either-or situation. Most teen rehab centers integrate academics into their curricula. They want your teen to succeed academically, too!

Just as an example: At each of Evolve’s Residential Treatment Centers, we have a dedicated school room complete with computers, printers, desk, books, and so on. We set aside hours every day solely for clients to complete schoolwork. Our clients regularly communicate and collaborate with their teachers remotely in order to complete homework and assignments. If desired, therapists can also coordinate with teachers to proctor tests. From day one, when your teen is admitted into our program, we provide an educational assessment that targets their academic strengths and areas of improvement. We do everything we can for your teen to continue their studies while in treatment! Even if your teen is not currently in school, we can assist in creating opportunities for them to continue their education.

Other rehab centers are diploma-granting institutions. Teens can take classes for high school credit from state-certified teachers. These tutors can even help your adolescent prepare for standardized tests like the SAT or ACT.

Other Alternatives to Residential Treatment Centers

Still aren’t ready to take your teen out of school to get treatment at a residential rehab center? There are also other options. Consider an intensive outpatient program (IOP), which is a half-day program that runs several days a week. Such programs are ideal for teens who can still manage to be in school for most of the day. Teens come to IOP after they end school, and participate in group therapy, 1:1 therapy, psychiatric sessions, and experiential activities with other teens their age. Intensive outpatient programs usually run in the late afternoon/evening hours.

However, IOP is not for teens who have more severe mental health or behavioral issues that require 24/7 supervision. If your teen is a danger to himself or others, he belongs in residential treatment.

The Big Picture

If your teen requires mental health or substance abuse treatment, sending them to an adolescent rehab center is the best thing you can do for them. Even if that means they’ll miss a lot of traditional school. There are definitely ways your teen can keep up with their studies while in treatment, but keep in mind that the priority here is your child’s mental health.

Even if your teen doesn’t manage to stay on track with the rest of his class, that’s okay. Your child’s life supersedes their academics.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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