If your teenager has a mental health or substance use disorder, you may have considered residential treatment for them at some point in the past.
If they have a mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, you understand that if they spend a period of time focusing solely on healing and recovery, they’ll receive more support – and likely make more progress – than they do in weekly sessions with a therapist or counselor. And if they have an alcohol or substance use disorder, you understand something similar: they could likely learn more about recovery in residential treatment– and develop more practical coping skills to handle their disorder– than they do in community support group meeting sponsored by organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
Until now, though, you haven’t been able to find the right time.
We have a rather unconventional suggestion: this year, perhaps they can enter treatment over Thanksgiving break.
In any other year, you might scoff at the idea. Thanksgiving is a time to spend with extended family and close friends. It’s a time for togetherness. It’s a time when we celebrate each other with the rituals and traditions that give life meaning and help us understand our place in the big picture. This is especially true for kids and teens: these rituals ground them, give them comfort, connect them to the past, and remind them about what’s most important in life.
Spending time in treatment while the rest of the family gathers around the table for a Thanksgiving feast may sound like the opposite of what a teenager needs.
2020: New Approaches for New Circumstances
But let’s rethink that: everything we’ve said so far applies to a typical year.
And we all know that so far, 2020 has been anything but typical. The way we do everything has changed. The changes may be temporary, but one thing we know right now is that as we approach Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, these temporary changes aren’t going anywhere – and we may actually be heading back towards another round of shelter-in-place orders soon.
treatment programs for teens
In light of the recent resurgence of COVID-19 across the country, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new guidance on November 9th for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Here’s what they say:
- Traditional Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends are fun but can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19.
- Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.
For families who do plan to hold gatherings with people who are not in their immediate household (i.e. extended family), they recommend:
- All the initial COVID-19 mitigation measures:
- Facial coverings (two layers, no vents)
- Six feet of distance
- Measures to make the gathering safe:
- Have a small outdoor meal
- Limit the number of guests
- Discuss expectations ahead of time with guests
- Have guests bring their own food and drink
- Have guests bring their own utensils
Suffice it to say that if you choose to follow CDC guidelines – which we recommend for all of our clients and families – Thanksgiving this year will be far different than a typical, traditional Thanksgiving.
But we know you’re still thinking:
And to that, we reply:
Think of it this way: an atypical year may be the best time to take an atypical approach to treatment.
Thanksgiving at Evolve
Let’s get back to that CDC Thanksgiving guidance for a moment. In addition to offering safety tips for families who choose to hold in-person gatherings, they offer alternatives to these traditional family meals.
Here’s what they recommend:
- Scheduling virtual meals via Zoom or other online platforms
- Sharing recipes virtually
- Showing off pics of the turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie, or other delicious holiday dishes
- Playing board games with the members of your household
- Watching Thanksgiving Day parades on TV
- Watching Thanksgiving Day sports events on TV
- Participating in gratitude activities, such as making a gratitude list and sharing it with friends and family
Are you thinking the same thing we are?
What we’re thinking is that if you’re not traveling this year (per CDC guidance) and you’re not hosting large in-person family gathering this year (per CDC guidance), then you can celebrate Thanksgiving with your teen, exactly as the CDC recommends above – while they’re in treatment.
It’s true, if they’re in treatment, they won’t be home with you. However, it’s also true that getting them professional help for their mental health or substance use disorder might be the kindest and most loving thing you can do for them. And, as we mentioned, on Thanksgiving Day you can talk, videoconference, share pictures, and in some cases, sync up Zoom sessions and watch movies or football together as a family.
And let’s be honest – everyone is going to spend most of their time staring at their phone anyway. Are we right? You don’t have to answer, but we know we are.
There’s another thing to keep in mind:
It’s Thanksgiving for us, too – and we love Thanksgiving.
Every one of our residential locations makes Thanksgiving feel like Thanksgiving. And this year, we’re following strict COVID-19 protocols that meet and exceed the safety precautions established by the CDC and other public health organizations.
Starting Treatment Over Thanksgiving: Practical Considerations
Let’s recap this article so far.
We’re suggesting that if your teenager has a mental health or substance use disorder – and they need more support than weekly therapy or AA/NA meetings – then this Thanksgiving holiday may be a good time to start residential treatment.
First, because this is not a typical year. It’s unlikely you and your family will travel to see extended family, host extended family at your house, or host friends and acquaintances at your house. Second, because residential treatment can help them make significant progress with a mental health or substance use disorder. They’ll experience a level of treatment and support they can’t get at home. Third, because the cumulative and ongoing stress of the pandemic may have exacerbated their disorder – and it’s possible they haven’t said anything because they know you’re under significant stress already, and they don’t want to rock the boat.
Those are all solid reasons – but we have five more.
Five Good Reasons to Start Treatment Over Thanksgiving Break
This reason is one hundred percent practical. In terms of insurance, your out-of-pocket and deductible costs will likely reset on January 1st. If you’ve already met those maximums, your insurance may completely cover residential treatment. This may significantly decrease your financial burden, compared to starting treatment after your out-of-pocket and deductible costs reset.
During the coronavirus pandemic, most teenagers attend school online in a combination of synchronous (live via videoconference) and asynchronous (assignments and instruction posted online via various platforms) learning. While treatment will be the primary objective in a residential treatment center, our team can work with your family to keep up with the asynchronous assignments as much as possible. In the best-case scenario, it’s possible they won’t lose any academic ground at all. If your teen got off track during spring and summer because of substance use, alcohol use, mental health issues, or pandemic stress, then Thanksgiving presents an optimal chance to set things straight and look forward to more productive second semester.
3. Supervision and Safety
Unsupervised downtime for troubled teens can lead to trouble. A teen with a substance use disorder may look forward to the unstructured downtime because it gives them more opportunities to acquire and use drugs. A teen with a mental health disorder may self-isolate, experience an increase in depressive symptoms, or focus on anxieties that have been building all spring, summer, and fall. For both groups, treatment during the holidays enables your family and your teen to sidestep these high-risk scenarios. In addition, teens in residential treatment at Evolve will not leave their treatment location, which will eliminate any chance of breaking social distance with peers at any informal teen gatherings.
4. Triggers and Patterns
During treatment, teens learn to identify triggers, i.e. external stimuli that lead to drug use or an increase in mental health symptoms. They also learn to identify treatment-interfering and life-interrupting patterns of behavior. Once they can recognize their triggers and label the behaviors they want to adjust, therapists and counselors work with them to develop positive coping strategies to handle the triggers and replace non-productive patterns of behavior with productive ones. Treatment during the holidays can help teens build and practice these skills before returning home after discharge and position themselves for a more fulfilling and productive second semester of school.
5. Home for Christmas and New Year
If your teen enters treatment at the beginning of Thanksgiving break, they may be home in time for Christmas and/or New Year’s Eve. That might be the best thing to happen in 2020: your teen back home with you on Christmas Eve, ready to face the world, equipped with a new set of psychological and emotional coping skills designed to manage the symptoms of their substance use or mental health disorder.
Looking Forward to 2021
We understand that 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone. It’s been filled with surprise after surprise. We also understand that for this reason, you may balk at the idea of sending your teenager away from home during the holidays. It may seem like exactly the wrong thing to do. We trust your instinct, of course. At the same time, we’d like you to consider our experience. We’ve worked with teens with mental health and substance use disorders for a long time. We know that right now – because of the cumulative stress of this year – many teens are suffering in silence. Of course, we can’t diagnose someone we’ve never met, but evidence from a wide range of sources indicates that the pandemic exacerbates symptoms and increases the risk of escalation of symptoms for anyone with a mental health or substance use disorder.
That’s true for everyone, teens included – and we want to help.
Research shows that when an individual who needs intensive treatment receives intensive treatment, they increase their chances at a full recovery. For a teen with a mental health disorder, this means understanding and managing their symptoms so they can live life on their own terms. For a teen with a substance use disorder, this means achieving and sustaining sobriety so they can live a life free from the damaging cycles of addiction. When these issues are left unaddressed, they can persist for months – or even years.
If you know your teen needs residential treatment, but you’ve been putting it off for various reasons, then we encourage you to look at this holiday period – beginning with Thanksgiving – as an opportunity to take that step. Professional help and support now can create a solid foundation their future, and help restore harmony and balance to your family.
Ready to Get Help for Your Child?Evolve offers CARF and Joint Commission accredited treatment for teens with mental health disorders and/or substance abuse. Your child will receive the highest caliber of care in our comfortable, home-like residential treatment centers. We offer a full continuum of care, including residential, partial hospitalization/day (PHP), and intensive outpatient treatment (IOP).
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.