This is a guest post on the subject of teenagers refusing mental health treatment.
It’s no secret that with the rise in social media use, overall screen time, and various social pressures at school, teenagers in the United States are struggling to cope with it all. More and more, we are seeing our youth wrestling with symptoms of depression and anxiety, oftentimes in addition to an eating disorder or ADHD diagnosis.
Recent studies following the COVID-19 pandemic confirm that teens in the United States need more mental health care than ever before. The CDC found that in 2021, 37% of high school students dealt with poor mental health during the pandemic. In 2022, 44% of that same group of students admitted to feeling persistently sad or hopeless.
While these numbers are alarming, what can be more discouraging for a parent is getting help for your teen when they are against seeking professional guidance. Whether they refuse to go to treatment altogether or are uncooperative in fully engaging with therapists and other staff, it can be challenging to navigate it all with your teen.
How to Know If Your Teen Is Really Struggling
Adolescence is a time of constant change. However, too many drastic changes may be cause for worry. Teens adopt certain notable behaviors or tendencies that can be signs of their mental health struggles. As a parent, be on the lookout for these tendencies and be quick to reach out to local resources.
- Excessive sleeping or insomnia/not sleeping enough
- Changes in personal hygiene or effort with physical appearance
- Drastic changes in weight, appetite, or eating habits
- Loss of passion for their favorite activities or interests
- Cancelling plans with their closest friends and withdrawing from family
- Drastic declined performance at school/difficulty making good grades
- Negative comments like “It’s not worth it anymore” or “I want it all to go away”
- Increased or first-time use of drugs, alcohol, smoking, or other substances
- Signs of self-harm like cuts, bruises, or burns that your teen tries to hide with clothing
- Sexual activity or increased romantic obsession with a crush or significant other
These signs could mean your teen is depressed or having suicidal thoughts. If you have cause for concern about your teen being a danger to themselves or others, do not ignore this instinct. Remove potential weapons, pills, or rope from your teen’s environment and seek help as soon as possible.
Talking to Your Teen about Mental Health Care
If you notice any of these signs, it’s time to act, while realizing your teen may be resistant to getting help for their mental health. There could be many underlying reasons why, and it’s important to remember they may not disclose their true feelings on the difficulty of receiving help. Nonetheless, having continued conversations about the importance of mental health care with your teen is crucial. Through conversation, express your care for them and emphasize how professional help can lay the foundation for a more enjoyable life in the present and a more successful life in the future. Remember to calmly listen to their point of view and be understanding of the feelings they disclose.
Here are some best practices when it comes to these challenging conversations:
- Don’t argue with your teen or get flustered by their resistance.
- Don’t imply that your teen is incapable of making smart decisions for themselves, but emphasize how it could be helpful to talk through decisions with a professional outside of the family.
- Avoid using the words “depression” or “disorder,” as these words unfortunately have stigma attached to them, which may cause further embarrassment or shame.
- Remind them of their goals and passions, and emphasize how treatment can help them achieve them.
- If your teen insists treatment will not help, pose the question, “If you have never been in treatment before, how do you know it won’t work?” Conversely, if they have been through treatment unsuccessfully in the past, emphasize how every therapist and treatment plan is different and how this method may work better for them.
- Remind them that therapists entered this profession to be able to help people in your teen’s position and they genuinely care and want to help better their life and see them succeed.
- Reassure your teen that treatment can be a private (HIPAA laws prevent disclosure), safe, and comfortable experience and they will be involved in making some decisions throughout the process.
The Importance of Remaining Calm
While these conversations can escalate due to your earnestness to help your child, do your best to stay as calm and approachable as possible. You can always pause the conversation and revisit it once you have collected more thoughts on the subject. Remember, intense emotional reactions may prevent progress toward getting help and make it harder for your teen to share their feelings with you.
In these conversations, be sure to:
- Take deep breaths and pauses to think when necessary.
- Provide opportunities for your teen to speak in response to you and deeply listen to them.
- Be sure to use a curious tone when asking questions, so they don’t feel “attacked” or “interrogated.”
- Be mindful of the shame they may already feel and do not seek to add to it, this will not bring the change you want for them.
Normalize Getting Help
If your teen has never seen a therapist, they may be struggling with the reality of their needs due to various mental health stigmas and the media’s contribution to them. There are many “myths” about mental health that may arise in these conversations; for example, your teen may exclaim, “I don’t need therapy, I’m not crazy!” This will provide the opportunity for you to provide facts that help them feel less alone. For example, emphasize how they are not the only teen who has ever needed help, and that mental health care support is more common than one might think.
In fact, studies have shown that in 2020, 2.4 million teens in the United States received care from mental health services for their depression, while an estimated 7.9 million teens received a type of mental health service for other causes. Of these teens who received mental healthcare, 65% were female and 35% were male.
You can also discuss celebrities your teen recognizes who advocate for mental health. Many well-known celebrities have been to counseling or currently are receiving professional help with things they are going through. Discussing these examples can help open their mind to the possibility of receiving help as well.
It Takes a Village to Raise a Child
If you feel as though there is nothing else you can do to get through to your teen, know that you are not alone. It’s common for teens to disregard a parent’s advice or counsel due to the desired rebellion that comes at this stage, as they start to develop as individuals and think for themselves. However, no matter how independent and strong-willed they may seem, teens are still highly influenced by their peers and mentors. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s doctors, teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, religious leaders, trusted family friends, and other mentors to help in your efforts to get your teen to agree to the treatment that’s best for them.
It’s also important to not feel embarrassed by the issues you and your teen are facing, but be honest about your concerns and how you think getting help will prepare them for a brighter future. By making them aware of your teen’s struggles, they may find ways to reach them outside of your efforts. In turn, teens may be more willing to hear from these leaders in their lives and more ready to talk to them about the discussions being had at home.
These individuals want the best for your child too and were placed in their life for a reason. Being honest with them may lead to positive forward progression in your son or daughter’s life.
Family Therapy May Be the Best Option
The role of the family can sometimes be what determines the success of total healing for your teen. In addition to getting help outside of the family, you may consider getting help for your family as you all navigate this together. Family therapy will provide you and other family leaders involved with the training and resources you need to help your teen be successful, uniting your efforts and guiding you all through these unchartered waters together. It can also provide a space for affected siblings to gain some understanding and support. By helping different loved ones cope and find their own healing, family therapy helps lay the foundation for others to begin helping the person in recovery.
In family therapy, there are two goals:
- Help everyone feel equipped and emotionally ready to support the family member in treatment.
- Strengthen the individual’s mental health and promote their own healing to better the entire family dynamic.
Professionals will lead you in these goals and work with your family no matter how “ugly” it may get during sessions.
Taking Care of Yourself in Order to Take Care of Them
It’s easy for parents to be consumed with concern for their children, which is why it’s imperative to understand your own needs before attending to theirs. Advocate for yourself if the worrying becomes too much and talk to a professional about how to lead your child in this next step. It may even prove to be easier to recommend counseling services to your child while you yourself are seeking guidance.
Parent support groups are also a great resource for you during this time. Here, you can meet other families who are going through similar struggles and learn how they have overcome them. Be sure to advocate for yourself in this difficult time, as watching your teen struggle can also take a toll on you.
For more resources on this topic, visit the following sites:
- Mental Health Resources for Parents
- Teen Mental Health: How to Know When Your Child Needs Help
- What to Do If Your Teen Refuses to Go to Counseling
- Helping Resistant Teens Into Treatment
Remain Hopeful and Resilient
Above all else, be gracious to yourself and your child as you walk through this together. Often, there is no one easy solution to what you may be facing. Recovery may be non-linear for your child and accepting this may be difficult. By maintaining clear, calm, open communication that expresses care and keeping your community involved, you will find solutions in time. Stay persistent in your pursuit for your teen to have their best life now and into the future. Even if they resist now, don’t give up, they will be grateful one day.
How SunCloud Health Can Help
Don’t wait until it’s too late to start seeking help for your adolescent. At SunCloud Health, we offer comprehensive services that are tailored to meet your teen where they are. Whether they’re struggling with anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, substance abuse, eating disorders, PTSD, or any co-occurring issues, our expert staff is here to support them—and you—through it all.
SunCloud Health offers the following programs to ensure you and your family find the resources and professional guidance necessary to achieve total healing:
- Intensive Outpatient Programs—customized plans designed to help teens through their problems without the need for residential care.
- Partial Hospitalization Programs—in-patient programs for teens who need a more structured care plan with full-time support.
- & More—Therapeutic programs that address treatment of depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, eating disorders, process addiction, PTSD. and trauma.
For more information about our programs and what options may be available to you, call us at (866) 729-1012 or contact us to inquire today.
If you or a loved one are in a mental health crisis, dial 988 for the suicide and crisis hotline or visit their site to live chat with someone at https://988lifeline.org. For emergencies, call 911.
Help is available, there is hope for a better life.