Teens, Treatment, and Telehealth: Accessible Mental Health Solutions
By CHRISTINE UNRUH, MS, LPC (MN), LPC (WI) Day Treatment Program Manager
“The mental health of our youth is a significant public health challenge that needs immediate awareness and action.” – U.S. Surgeon General
Unhealthy relationships, anger outbursts, and substance use were just some of the symptoms 14-year-old Natalie demonstrated when her parents sought mental health treatment for her.
Natalie and her family are not alone. Since the pandemic, distance learning, isolation, economic instability, and fear have led to unprecedented levels of depression, anxiety, and trauma among children, teens, and young adults. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among ages 10-24 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The U.S. Surgeon General is challenging all communities to work together to protect the mental health of youth.
Treatment programs for teens
It may be difficult for parents and caregivers to discern the difference between typical teenage behavior and behaviors that are cause for concern. This article provides insight, direction, and resources. A prominent sign that a teen may be struggling is that he or she is unable to function in various aspects of life.
One treatment recommendation for teens with mental health concerns is one-on-one weekly counseling sessions. When this type of treatment isn’t enough, teens may benefit from a higher level of care, such as Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) or Day Treatment for teens. Think of these programs as a “higher dose” of care to help the teen feel better, faster. This type of care provides daily treatment sessions, including weekly peer group meetings, individual counseling, and family therapy.
Natalie’s participation in a teen day treatment program was vital to her healing process. The setting was instrumental in helping her learn to share emotions, especially during groups with others her age. Through this practice, she developed trust and began to understand and manage her unhealthy behaviors. She also created healthy coping skills.
This may come as a surprise, but Natalie’s treatment was provided exclusively through telehealth at Christian Family Solutions. She enrolled in ARMOR Day Treatment for Teens, an online treatment program created specifically for the development stage and learning style of this age group. Telehealth allows clients to progressively increase their social interaction with others their age in a controlled and safe environment. And providers are readily available to take a break if clients feel overwhelmed or have anxiety.
For families and teens, the online program eliminates barriers that may interfere with in-person treatment programs. Advantages of an online treatment program include:
- No transportation issues
- Minimal disruptions in treatment due to quarantines or health concerns
- Accessible treatment for those who live in areas without treatment options nearby
- Family schedules and community involvement for teens can be maintained
In-person or Online: The goal is to get well
Some parents may be concerned that an online program is less effective than in-person treatment. We have not found this to be true. The decision for whether a teen is placed in an in-person, or an online program really comes at the time of the diagnostic assessment. The therapist performing the assessment will recommend which program will create the best treatment environment for the teen.
In our experience, some teens actually do better in an online environment than in person.
- Teens who are prone to distractions or dysregulation can experience the benefits of group treatment in a quieter setting.
- Some teens with high anxiety miss in-person treatment days, and attendance is very important to treatment outcomes. With online treatment, those with high anxiety around groups can participate in a private setting. (Note that COVID has increased this type of anxiety for many people.)
The ARMOR staff consistently monitors clients’ progress, whether they are online or in-person. We’re always asking the question: “Are they making progress toward their goals?”
Interview with Christine Unruh – ARMOR Day Treatment Program Manager
“One client really suffered with social anxiety and hardly left her room especially during the pandemic. In using the online program, she was able to engage and have social interaction while at a level that was comfortable for her. And after she graduated, she was visiting coffee shops and going shopping more and spending more time with her external members of the family.”
Interview with Katelyn Bolte – ARMOR Day Treatment Program Manager
TJ’s childhood robbed him of healthy, trusting relationships. Listen to Katelyn Bolte talk about his journey and the progress he made through the power of ARMOR group therapy.
CFS offers multiple ARMOR programs in Minnesota and Wisconsin that include in-person and telehealth options.
For clients who so choose, Christian Family Solutions has the ability to integrate Christian faith principles with treatment. Research has shown that quality mental health treatment integrated with an individual’s faith yields excellent, longer-lasting outcomes.
Collaboration is key to success
To limit disruptions and remain in school, many students choose to participate in the ARMOR telehealth program from their school. ARMOR counselors work closely with school staff to create a safe and secure environment. Most schools will also arrange the student’s learning schedule around the program. Another benefit of participating from school is that teens can continue to attend extracurricular activities. Some schools may provide social-emotional learning credits (SEL) for those who participate in ARMOR. A CFS intake specialist can provide you with more information.
Christine Unruh – ARMOR Day Treatment Program Manager
“They get to school, they do their first hour at school and then they are with us from 9-11. Once they are done, they go back to school right away. There’s been really good collaboration between case workers and guidance counselors or school support staff … facilitating communication is an outcome that lasts much longer than even their time in day treatment.”
A 10-year study from the CDC reveals:
- 1 in 3 high school students had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness preventing them from participating in regular activities
- In 1 in 6 high school students reported making a suicide plan in the past year
Let’s face the challenge of protecting the mental health of youth by providing effective mental health solutions for this next generation. Together we can create lasting healing and hope.
In this together,
We are here to partner with you on this journey as you determine the best next step. We have ARMOR programs in-person in our clinics:
- Brookfield, WI
- Lakeville, MN
- Mankato, MN
Teens can also enroll in our ARMOR online programs in Wisconsin and in Minnesota. In Minnesota, ARMOR Day Treatment for Teens is a qualifying CTSS service.
To refer a teen or to discuss whether the ARMOR program is right for your teen, call our intake staff at 800.438.1772. We look forward to serving those you care about and collaborating with you for the best care possible for your teen.
Day Treatment Program Manager
Christine uses trauma-informed practices, utilizes a family-systems approach, and strives for her clients to see and use their strengths. Christine believes that God has uniquely made each one of us and continues to love his creation. She is blessed and humbled to share God’s love with others.