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Teen Treatment for Mental Health: A Guide to Terminology

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 >

Helping Your Teen: How to Understand the Language of Teen Mental Health Treatment

[seriesbox]Terminology Guide: Teen Rehab Centers
Terminology Guide: Teen Inpatient Treatment
Terminology Guide: Adolescent Mental Health Treatment Centers
Inpatient Treatment for Adolescent Depression
DBT Residential Treatment For Teens
Behavioral Treatment Centers for Youth[/seriesbox]Over the past twenty years, trends in data on teen mental health show that prevalence rates increased for teens age 12-17 for all the most common mental health, behavioral, and addiction disorders. Experts in adolescent mental health called this both an emergency and a crisis before the coronavirus pandemic. New data shows the pandemic exacerbated the long-term trends researchers identified between 1999 and 2019. Between 2019 and 2021, teens in the U.S. showed significant yearly increases in all the areas that were trending upward – and eliciting language crisis and emergency – before the pandemic.

What that means is that our teens need our support more than ever.

Here are the areas where we see long-term increases in mental health disorders in teens, as well as the short-term increases caused by the pandemic. This data comes from The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the University of Michigan, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

  1. Mood Disorders
  2. Anxiety Disorders
  3. Alcohol/Substance Use Disorder
  4. Non-Suicidal Self-Injury
  5. Suicidal Ideation and Suicidality

To learn more about the prevalence rates of mental health disorders among teens, please read our article here:

The State of Teen Mental Health in the US in 2020

If you’re the parent of a teen with a newly diagnosed or chronic mental health issue, we know finding the appropriate treatment can be confusing because of the specialized terminology clinicians and mental health experts use. This article gives you a brief overview of the terms you might find when searching for professional mental health support for your teen. We’ll introduce and offer a brief description of a specific term or phrase, then include a link to a more in-depth explanation of the term or phrase, which will help you understand what it might mean to – and how it might help – your teen, your family, and you.

Teen Mental Health Terms You Should Know

We’ll start with general terms you’re likely to see when you begin searching for support for your teen.

Adolescent Mental Health Treatment Centers

An adolescent mental health treatment center is a catch-all phrase that describes any facility – or part of a larger facility – that supports teens diagnosed with mental health, behavioral, or alcohol/substance use disorder(s). These centers offer programs designed specifically to meet the needs of teens and families looking for mental health treatment for teens.

Teen Rehab Centers

In the U.S., when people hear or read the word rehab, the first thing they think about is recovery from alcohol or drug addiction. If you’re the parent of a teen you think has an alcohol or drug problem, you probably type something like the phrase teen rehab near me into the search bar on your browser. What you find is that when you search for treatment for your teen with an alcohol or drug problem, you get results for behavioral health centers and mental health treatment centers, too. This begs the question: are teen rehab centers and teen mental health treatment centers the same thing?

Teen Inpatient Treatment

You probably know what the term inpatient means: it’s when you stay overnight in a hospital or medical facility. In the case of teen inpatient treatment for a mental health, behavioral, or addiction disorder, it means basically the same thing: it’s when your teen enters treatment and stays overnight at the facility for a specific period of time, as recommended by their primary therapist, psychiatrist, counselor, or physician. There are two different types of teen inpatient treatment: inpatient hospitalization and residential treatment.

Inpatient Treatment for Adolescent Depression

The majority of people who receive treatment for clinical depression – including teens – participate in outpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment for adolescent depression, and inpatient adolescent mental health treatment in general, is appropriate in cases where symptoms are so severe that they prevent the individual from carrying out the most basic functions of day-to-day life. In some cases, teens with severe depression may need immersive, focused treatment in a safe and secure environment with 24/7 monitoring by qualified psychiatric medical personnel:  in other words, they may need inpatient treatment.

DBT Residential Treatment for Teens

Dialectical behavior therapy – a.k.a. DBT – is a structured, stepwise approach to treatment for mental health disorders characterized by emotional and behavioral symptoms that are powerful, overwhelming, and difficult to control. Teens with disorders that cause volatile and unpredictable behavior benefit from DBT because it teaches them skills that work in the moment. One type of DBT residential treatment – called Comprehensive DBT – is particularly effective for teens with high emotional reactivity.

Behavioral Treatment Centers for Youth

Behavioral health is a broad, generic term that refers to the connection between daily individual actions or habits and overall physical, psychological, and emotional health. Health professionals initially used the term specifically for mental health disorders, but over the past two decades expanded it to include the impact of behavior and conditions like diabetes and hypertension. In the context of teen mental health treatment, however, it most often means the former: behavioral health is a general designation that can mean outpatient treatment, residential treatment, or psychiatric hospitalization.

A Prepared, Knowledgeable Parent Helps a Teen in Need of Support

When your teen receives a diagnosis for a mental health, behavioral, or addiction disorder, you know it’s your job to do all the leg work – a.k.a. the due diligence – that’s involved in finding them the best and most appropriate care available. You’ll find most of the terms and phrases we discuss above the second you type phrases like “help for my teen with depression” or “best mental health treatment for teens near me” into your search engine.

Please be patient with the language, with yourself, with your teen, and with the mental health professionals you interact with as you seek support.

There will be language you don’t understand at first. There will be approaches to treatment neither you nor your teen understands – at first. With time, patience, and effort, you’ll learn what it all means, and so will your teen. Which, in the end, will help you find the best treatment available, and enable your teen to take their first – and most important – steps on the journey to healing, growth, and sustainable, long-term recovery.

Finding Help: Resources

If you’re seeking treatment 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.

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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