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When should a teen receive mental health treatment?

Written by Andy Kang LICSW, JD
Published on April 18, 2016

DepressionHow severe does a teen’s mental health issue need to get before seeking treatment?

A better question might be: When should I seek information about mental health treatment for my teen son or daughter? Because the answer is right away.

Here are some of the basics to navigating this process:

  1. Assessment

It is never too early to look into your options. However, that starts with an initial understanding of the presenting issue(s). For that, you may need to start with a clinical assessment to get an idea of what is actually going on with your child. As a parent, you also know that what is being reported is not necessarily completely accurate. But of course, getting your teen to do anything, much less go to a therapist or doctor can be incredibly difficult. Try couching the issue in terms of helping them to feel better. If they are honest about how they feel, they may be willing to acknowledge the need.

  1. Determining Severity

The next thing to understand is how much the mental issue is impacting your child on a day-to-day basis. Are they having difficulty doing daily activities, like school, sports, or extra-curriculars? Are they staying in bed, sleeping a lot? Or, do they seem to be functioning well, but just in a bit of a funk. This is an area where a frank discussion with your son or daughter can be instructive. What are the areas where they see themselves being impacted? If they say none, you can reflect what you’ve been seeing in their behavior. Severity directly relates to level of function – the more functional a person is, the less severe the mental health issue.

  1. Examining Options

Once you’ve isolated the problem and gotten a sense of how severe it is, you can start to look for appropriate treatment. That is usually laid out in terms of levels of care. From most to least intensive, those include, inpatient hospitalization, residential treatment (longer term live-in), intensive outpatient (day programs), outpatient therapy and groups (usually weekly). Programs are generally established in accordance with categories of issues, so an accurate diagnosis is a good place to start when looking for the right place for your child.

  1. Ask for Help

Utilize the resources available to you in finding the appropriate treatment. Family and friends are great resources. Combat the stigma of mental health issues by challenging yourselves and your child to discuss their needs openly and honestly. And of course, seek help from qualified professionals who are knowledgeable in the relevant areas. As you make connections with providers, they will have contacts for your child. Such personal recommendations, are based on actual knowledge and tend to be better than information gleaned from an internet search.


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