summer break hard on teens and young adults

Silent Cries for Help: Detecting Mental Health Warning Signs in Teens and Young Adults Over Summer Break 

Summer break is often viewed as a time for relaxation and fun, but for many teens and young adults, it can be a period of increased mental health challenges. The transition from a structured school environment to a more relaxed schedule can trigger or exacerbate mental health issues. Statistics highlight the prevalence of mental health issues among teens and young adults. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five youth aged 13-18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For college students, the American College Health Association reports that nearly 40% of students felt so depressed it was difficult to function, and 60% felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year. As parents, it’s crucial to be vigilant and aware of the signs that your child may be struggling and understand when it’s time to seek more intensive treatment options. 

Signs to Look Out For 

Mood Changes: Watch for persistent sadness, irritability, or mood swings. While occasional moodiness is normal, prolonged emotional shifts can indicate deeper issues. 

Withdrawal: If your child is isolating themselves from friends and family, it may be a sign of depression or anxiety. Social withdrawal is a red flag that should not be ignored. 

Changes in Sleep Patterns: Insomnia, oversleeping, or frequent nightmares can be indicators of mental health struggles. Pay attention to significant deviations from their usual sleep habits. 

Appetite Changes: Noticeable changes in eating habits, whether it’s a loss of appetite or overeating, can be a sign of emotional distress. 

Loss of Interest: A lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed can be a sign of depression. This is particularly concerning if it persists for more than a couple of weeks. 

Decline in Academic Performance: While school might be out, keep an eye on any summer courses or commitments. A sudden drop in performance or lack of motivation can indicate underlying issues. 

Substance Abuse: Increased use of alcohol or drugs is a significant red flag. It can be a coping mechanism for underlying mental health issues and should be addressed immediately. 

Physical Complaints: Frequent headaches, stomachaches, or other physical ailments without a clear medical cause can be symptoms of anxiety or depression. 

Risky Behaviors: Engaging in reckless or dangerous activities can be a cry for help. This includes risky driving, unprotected sex, or experimenting with substances. 

Self-Harm or Suicidal Thoughts: Any indication of self-harm, such as cutting or burning, or talk of suicide should be taken very seriously and addressed immediately. These are critical red flags that require immediate attention. 

These signs could be indications of mental health disorders that your child may be struggling with such as: 

Depression: Depression in teens and young adults can manifest as persistent sadness, irritability, or mood swings. Symptoms include loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and difficulty concentrating. Depression can also lead to feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness and, in severe cases, suicidal thoughts or behaviors. 

Anxiety Disorders: Anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder, can cause excessive worry, restlessness, and physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat or sweating. Teens and young adults might avoid social situations or activities they once enjoyed due to anxiety. 

Bipolar Disorder: This disorder involves extreme mood swings, from manic highs to depressive lows. During manic episodes, teens may exhibit overly energetic, euphoric, or irritable behavior, while depressive episodes can bring about severe sadness and lack of energy. 

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD symptoms include difficulty paying attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Summer break’s lack of structure can make these symptoms more noticeable as daily routines are disrupted. 

Eating Disorders: Disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder often become more apparent during periods of less structured eating and activity. Look for signs such as extreme weight loss, obsession with food or exercise, and unusual eating habits. 

Substance Use Disorders: Increased use of alcohol or drugs can be a coping mechanism for underlying mental health issues. Be aware of changes in behavior, secrecy, or physical signs of substance use. 

Shutterstock 2410102817 Silent Cries For Help: Detecting Mental Health Warning Signs In Teens And Young Adults Over Summer Break 

When to Seek Intensive Treatment 

If your child exhibits any of these signs and they persist despite efforts to help through 1:1 therapy or other supportive measures, it may be time to consider more intensive mental health treatment options. Here are some situations that might necessitate a higher level of care: 

Lack of Improvement: If traditional therapy isn’t yielding results, more intensive treatment might be necessary. 

Safety Concerns: Immediate action is needed if there are concerns about self-harm or suicide. 

Functional Impairment: If their ability to function in daily life is significantly impaired, it’s time to seek additional help. 

Co-occurring Issues: The presence of substance abuse alongside mental health issues often requires specialized, intensive treatment. 

First Steps to Initiate More Intensive Therapy for Your Teen or Young Adult Beyond Traditional one-to-one sessions 

Recognizing that your teen or young adult may need more intensive therapy beyond traditional one-on-one sessions can be daunting. However, taking the right steps early on can make a significant difference in their mental health journey. Here are the first steps to start more intensive therapy: 

Consult with Current Therapist or Counselor 

Initial Discussion: Begin by having an open and honest conversation with your teen’s or young adult’s current therapist. Express your concerns and discuss the observed signs and symptoms that suggest a need for more intensive therapy. 

Professional Assessment: The therapist can conduct a thorough assessment to determine the severity of the mental health issues and recommend whether a higher level of care is necessary. 

Seek a Comprehensive Evaluation 

Psychiatric Evaluation: Schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist for a comprehensive evaluation. A psychiatrist can diagnose any underlying mental health conditions, provide medication management if needed, and recommend appropriate treatment options. 

Multidisciplinary Assessment: Consider an evaluation from a multidisciplinary team that includes psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals to get a holistic view of your child’s needs. 

Research Intensive Therapy Options 

Using guidance and recommendations from your teens current therapist or counselor are valuable in researching the best intensive therapy options for your teen or young adult. Intensive therapy options include: 

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP): These programs offer more support than traditional therapy but allow your child to stay at home. They typically involve multiple therapy sessions per week, including individual, group, and family therapy. IOPs are beneficial for those who need a higher level of care but still want to maintain some level of normalcy in their daily lives. 

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP): PHPs provide a higher level of care than IOPs. They are structured programs that run for several hours a day, five days a week, and include a variety of therapeutic activities such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and recreational therapy. PHPs are ideal for individuals who need more intensive support but do not require 24-hour supervision and allow your teen to return home in the evenings. 

Residential Treatment Centers (RTC): For those needing 24-hour care, residential treatment centers provide a supportive and structured environment. This option is ideal for severe cases where constant supervision and intensive therapy are necessary. RTCs provide a supportive, immersive environment for recovery with treatment plans based on 60-90 days. 

Hospitalization: In cases of acute mental health crises, short-term hospitalization may be necessary to ensure safety and stabilization. 

Check Insurance Coverage and Financial Planning 

Insurance Inquiry: Contact your health insurance provider to understand what intensive therapy options are covered under your plan. Inquire about any pre-authorization requirements and potential out-of-pocket costs. 

Financial Assistance: Explore financial assistance programs, scholarships, or payment plans offered by treatment centers to help manage costs. 

Visit Potential Treatment Centers 

Facility Tours: Schedule visits to potential treatment centers to get a firsthand look at the facilities, meet the staff, and understand the program’s structure and philosophy. 

Program Suitability: Ensure that the program is tailored to meet the specific needs of teens or young adults and that it aligns with your child’s mental health requirements and preferences. 

Involve Your Teen or Young Adult in the Decision-Making Process 

Open Dialogue: Maintain open communication with your child about the need for more intensive therapy. Explain the benefits and listen to their concerns or preferences. 

Collaborative Choice: Involve them in the decision-making process to ensure they feel empowered and committed to their treatment plan. 

Prepare for the Transition 

Practical Arrangements: Make any necessary arrangements for their stay at a treatment center, such as packing essentials, arranging transportation, and setting up communication plans. 

Emotional Support: Provide emotional support and reassurance during the transition. Let them know that seeking intensive treatment is a positive step toward better mental health. 

Establish Ongoing Support Systems 

Family Involvement: Engage in family therapy sessions if offered, to support your child and address any family dynamics that may impact their mental health. 

Aftercare Planning: Discuss aftercare plans with the treatment center to ensure a smooth transition back to regular life and continued support post-treatment. 

Monitor Progress and Adjust as Needed 

Regular Updates: Stay in regular contact with the treatment team to monitor your child’s progress and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan. 

Long-Term Strategy: Develop a long-term mental health strategy that includes continued therapy, support groups, and healthy lifestyle habits to maintain progress. 

Final Thoughts 

As parents, your vigilance and willingness to act on mental health concerns can make a significant difference in your child’s life. Summer break, with its lack of structure, can be a challenging time for many teens and young adults. By recognizing the signs of mental health struggles and knowing when to seek more intensive treatment, you can help your child navigate these challenges and support their journey toward wellness. 

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you’re ever in doubt about your child’s mental health, feel free to reach out to us at Centered Health. Our teen residential centers – Beachside Teen Treatment Center and Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center are there to help you and your teen with an individualized treatment plan and the support they need to recover. Your proactive approach can provide the support and intervention they need during this critical time over summer so the transition back to school is healthy.