Parenting a difficult teen is a challenge no one would ever volunteer for. Certainly, the typical adolescent presents plenty of challenges to his or her parents, that is a given. But when a teen’s behavior becomes so disruptive and incorrigible that it severely impacts the entire family dynamic, the situation has become unmanageable. It is understandable, therefore, when parents finally reach a turning point and simply throw up their hands in surrender.
These anguished parents no longer know how to help their teenage son or daughter. Whether their adolescent has recently developed signs of a mental health disorder or has been dealing with emotional problems since childhood, at some juncture no matter what interventions are attempted they have not proven to be effective. This is the pivotal point when a residential program for troubled teens seems to be the most appropriate level of care.
The residential treatment setting allows the clinical team to work with the teen on a daily basis, providing continuity and stability for the adolescent. Teens find the daily structure of a residential program to be calming as they can anticipate the schedule of activities each day. The teen residential setting offers the best opportunity for achieving successful long-term recovery results, allowing a teen to look forward to a promising future.
Signs of a Troubled Teen
In most cases, the signs of psychological distress do not just appear suddenly. There is typically a history of emotional or conduct issues that predate the mental health disorder, although not always. Some teens might have been struggling with behavior or psychological issues since childhood, where others seemed to acquire a serious mood disorder out of the blue. Either way, there are some signs that point to a serious mental health crisis in the making. These include:
- Extreme mood swings
- Sudden changes in sleep routines, sleep disturbances
- Isolating behaviors, avoiding social settings
- Detachment behavior
- Aggressive or violent behaviors, rages
- Signs of psychosis, such as paranoid thinking, hallucinations, delusions
- Sudden weight changes
- Self-harming behaviors
- Substance abuse
- Sudden decline in academic performance
- Prolonged low mood
- Excessive worry or fear
- Deterioration of an existing mental health condition
- Suicide threats or attempts
When some of these warning signs become apparent it is appropriate to escalate the level of care, such as a residential program for troubled teens.
Conduct Disorders in Teens
Conduct disorder and other antisocial disorders are the most prevalent psychological conditions among children and adolescents. Conduct disorder affects nearly twice the number of boys versus girls, according to an article published in Psychological Medicine. For parents, it is sometimes difficult to know if their child is just going through a rebellious phase that will pass, or if their teen has a serious mental health issue. Signs of conduct disorder may include:
- Physical violence towards others
- Threatening harm to others, bullying
- Violating the rights of others
- Cruelty toward animals
- Destruction of property
- Poor impulse control
- Deceitful behaviors
- Lack of compassion or remorse
- Socially challenged
- Chronic truancy
Teens with conduct disorder may also have co-occurring ADHD, substance use disorder, or a mood disorder.
Mood Disorders in Teens
Teens who struggle with a mood disorder may experience difficulty across multiple domains. This can include social relationships, academic performance, family relationships, and even physical health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 14.3% of adolescents will experience a mood disorder in a given year, with about 11% of them experiencing severe impairment. The most common mood disorders among adolescents include:
- Anxiety. The NIMH reports that approximately 32% of teenagers experience an anxiety disorder. There are various forms of anxiety, and teens tend to experience mostly social anxiety, panic disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder. Some symptoms of anxiety include:
- Irrational fear or worry that is out of proportion to the stressor
- Shortness of breath
- Fear or dread of being judged by others
- Blushes easily
- Social withdrawal, isolating behaviors
- Sensitive to criticism
- Highly self-conscious, self-critical
- Engages in self-harming behaviors
- Difficulty with interpersonal relationships
- Depression. About 13.3% of teens are affected by depression, according to the NIMH. Symptoms include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, or despair, or hopelessness
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Sleep problems, insomnia or hypersomnia
- Decline in school performance
- Slowed movements and cognitive functioning
- Loss of interest in the activities usually enjoyed
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or shame
- Easily upset, quick to anger
- Mood swings
- Headaches or stomach distress
- Trouble concentrating
- Self-harming behaviors
- Talking of death or suicide
- Bipolar Disorder. According to the NIMH, an estimated 2.9% of teens are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a serious and complex mood disorder that features alternating mood episodes between mania and depression.
- Depressive episodes feature hopelessness, low energy, changes in sleep habits, loss of interest in usual activities, sudden weight changes, obsessive thoughts of death or suicide.
- Manic episodes feature bursts of energy, rapid speech, irritability, euphoria, insomnia, loss of appetite, engaging in high-risk behaviors.
What Causes a Teen to Become Troubled?
Teens that struggle with behavior or mental health problems may have begun showing signs of distress in childhood. The signs of emotional instability may have been ignored or denied in earlier years, but over time the symptoms only intensified. With the added turbulence associated with the teen years compounding the psychological problems, it eventually became apparent that a serious mental health issue had developed.
Other teens may have functioned normally during early childhood and pre-adolescence, only to later develop problems due to such things as bullying, substance abuse, social problems, or a mood disorder. Still others might have experienced negative life events that triggered emotional instability.
There are a number of reasons why a teen may have become troubled. Some of the risk factors thought to be causes of a teen mental health disorder include:
- Genetics. A family history of mood disorders or mental instability
- Environmental. The sudden loss of a parent or close loved one, parents divorcing, moving to a new community and changing schools
- Trauma. A history of physical or sexual abuse or neglect
- Biological. Personality traits, individual temperaments, lack of impulse control, difficulty managing stress, a learning disability, undeveloped coping skills
- Mental illness. Presence of an undiagnosed mental health disorder, such as a mood disorder
When Outpatient Care Isn’t Enough
At the outset of a mental health diagnosis, it is typically outpatient practitioners provide therapy and medical support. The outpatient level of care is a starting place that can help to stabilize the rebellious or moody teen. Outpatient care can range in intensity based on the needs of the teen. Some teens will improve through psychotherapy, teen support groups, and possibly medication. These adolescents will manage their condition and continue to participate in school and extracurricular activities.
Teens with deteriorating mental health, such as those who are getting into legal trouble, have quit school, have threatened suicide, are engaging in risky behaviors, or begin abusing drugs or alcohol, will need a higher level of care. These troubled behaviors reveal serious mental health issues that may cause major negative impacts on the teen’s future and demand a more intensive form of psychiatric intervention.
What Are Psychiatric Programs for Troubled Teens?
When an adolescent is exhibiting signs of serious mental distress, there may come a time when no matter how sincere a parent’s desire to help them is they simply do not have the necessary tools to do so. This inflection point occurs when all therapeutic, punitive, or corrective measures have failed to exact any substantive change in outward behaviors. The programs for troubled teens, such as residential mental health treatment, may offer both teens and their parents much needed support.
A residential teen mental health setting can provide access to a team of professionals that will approach treatment in a comprehensive and highly targeted manner. The teen will receive a more customized treatment plan as well as academic support during their stay. The teen treatment plan will include the following:
- Psychotherapy. Teens will work one-on-one with a licensed psychotherapist utilizing evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy. Other therapies that can help troubled teens include solutions focused therapy, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy. The goal is to help teens learn socially acceptable coping strategies and emotion regulation.
- Small groups. Group therapy gives teens an opportunity to gain peer support as they share their own stories under the guidance of a therapist.
- Family therapy. Family-focused therapy and communication skill building exercises is key in helping improve the family dynamic in general.
- Detox and dual diagnosis. Some teens have a co-occurring substance use disorder in addition to the mental health disorder and will require addiction treatment.
- Medication. Medications may be beneficial for some teens struggling with a serious mental health issue.
- Experiential activities. Teens are receptive to therapeutic activities that involve being outdoors, such as surf therapy, hiking, or yoga classes.
Getting a troubled teen the help they need sooner rather than later can help them make a course correction before the psychological issues worsen. Teens will have a better chance at improving their future prospects when receiving such targeted psychiatric care.
BNI Treatment Helps Adolescents with Mental Health Disorders
BNI Treatment Centers is a leading residential mental health provider for teens, providing intensive treatment of troubled teens. At BNI Treatment our psychiatric professionals will conduct a thorough review of mental health history, medical history, and utilized various diagnostic tools to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. From that point, a customized treatment plan will be designed for your teen’s specific mental health needs. For more information about our program, please call today at (888) 522-1504.