Guest post by Alexander Chevalier, MD, Medical Director of Adolescent Programming at SunCloud Health
As I write this, I reflect upon my gratitude to live in arguably America’s most fantastic summer city, Chicago. It is known for lively summer activities, street festivals, water sports, green spaces, and overall buzz; it would be easy to think that all must be well for those living in this city. I contrast this with my day job as an adolescent psychiatrist and recognize this is far from the truth.
Several new challenges arise as adolescents transition out of school and into the summer. Warm weather and beaches bring the social and environmental expectations of less clothing and amplified body image concerns.
New pressure for a “beach body” or “summer fling” can be all the brain needs to tilt from body dysmorphia into a full-blown eating disorder.
Unshackled by the requirements to wake up early and perform academically, the adolescent brain has a different risk/benefit ratio when considering alcohol, marijuana, or other addictive substances. With more friends using, the peer pressure to use rises. When problematic use occurs, the school’s requirements and oversight are not present to catch the problem in its infancy.
Many people expect major depression to alleviate in the summer for teens naturally. However, with the loss of structure from school, it can be even easier to fall into isolation spirals with less reason to leave one’s room and more time spent on screens or engaged in activities we know have pro-depressive effects.
Social anxiety naturally lessened by the diminished demands for anxiety-provoking tasks like speaking in class. Does this mean the disorder is improving? Quite to the contrary, less exposure to events that evoke social anxiety directly worsens this disorder leaving many teens in a precarious place when school does resume in the fall.
Families often face complex challenges in promoting or deferring mental health treatment for their teens over the summer. I get it: booked and paid vacations, and who can refuse the argument of a much-needed break after a long school year? But looking on the flip side, summer is often the best time to receive mental health treatment. Without the demands of school, there is no worry about splitting attention between medicine and academics. Teens can enter and often complete treatment without school or peers being aware of their absence. The group-based treatment provides an ongoing peer structure to replace the school day.
If you or a loved one need help with your mental health, you are far from alone. With the incidence of most adolescent mental health disorders on a rapid increase, it has never been more important to take the time to seize back control of your life and start or further your recovery journey.
Alexander Chevalier, MD, is the Medical Director of Adolescent Programming at SunCloud Health. He recently completed hiking the Grand Canyon and hopes to spend as many weekends as possible hiking and boating this summer.