Teen mental health problems are a significant risk for today’s families. Every day, more attention is being paid to the problem of teen mental health and substance use disorders. Reporting indicates that rates of teen depression, anxiety, and suicide are increasing at alarming rates. However, each day also brings new understanding and hope for young people and families facing these conditions. We are living in a time of growing challenges for families. Risks factors for the development of mental illness among young people are growing, and finding appropriate care can be challenging. Muir Wood can help.
While public awareness is helping to bring teen mental health conditions out of the shadows, these complex disorders, if left untreated, can be difficult for parents to address. It can be difficult for parents and loved ones to distinguish between normal behavior and mental health disorders. It can also be difficult for parents to find the specialized treatment providers necessary to bring relief and ongoing care.
The intersection of mental health and substance use
Untreated mental health conditions can often lead teens to self-medicate with substances. While some families are aware that their children are consuming alcohol, marijuana, or other substances, it often comes as a surprise to parents — especially among parents of young teens. The co-occurrence of mental health disorders and substance use disorders is so common that treatment centers like Muir Wood specialize in treating these so-called “dual-diagnosis” conditions. It is important for parents to know that the misuse of drugs and alcohol is not just the result of poor choices or bad judgment. It is often an attempt to overcome the symptoms of anxiety, depression, trauma, learning disabilities, and other conditions in order to relieve discomfort and feel normal. Effective treatment must address the root causes of the development and perpetuation of mental health conditions to reduce the perceived need to self-medicate with substances.
The use of substances can compound mental health conditions. Drinking and using drugs to cope with undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions make the effects of mental health disorders worse, leading to a downward spiral of mental and physical health, and increased risk of academic and legal problems.
Research shows that the following mental health conditions are common in teens with substance use problems:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Conduct disorder
- Anxiety disorder
- Adjustment disorder
- Bipolar disorder
Parents of teens with diagnosed mental illnesses can work to develop clear and open communication, motivating their children to work with doctors and therapists when their symptoms appear to be overwhelming. Some teens may resist these efforts. In that case, doctors and therapists may look for alternative ways to communicate with their young patients in an effort to best address their needs.
Mental health conditions can run in families
Some mental illnesses tend to run in families. For that reason, it may be appropriate for teens with known genetic predispositions to discuss mental health issues even if they don’t have a mental illness themselves but are at risk of developing one in the future. Some parents find it helpful to discuss their own struggles with mental illness, so their teens will know what to look out for and when to ask for help before any mental health issues lead to substance misuse.
Muir Wood sees the big picture — comprehensive teen health
At Muir Wood, we understand the correlation between mental health disorders and substance abuse. We work to dispel outdated assumptions about substance use disorder, keeping the focus on the bigger adolescent health picture instead. We strive to reduce the stigma still associated with mental health issues and substance use disorder which helps break down barriers to seeking treatment.
Struggling teens are good kids asking for help
The teens at Muir Wood are often struggling to find connection, identity and a sense of belonging. What many of them lack most of all is self-esteem. Our Founder, Scott Sowle adds, “I’ve worked with thousands of teens over thirty-two years. Many of the teens we’ve had at Muir Wood are some of the brightest, most creative, and thoughtful kids you would ever meet. The idea that kids who act out or use drugs and alcohol are bad kids, is simply unfair. At their authentic core, most of the teens we see at Muir Wood are simply struggling to find connection and sense of belonging.”