Parents may be among the first to notice when the mental health of a teen starts to flag. Whether it’s loss of interest in normal activities, lack of enthusiasm, irritability, anxiety, poor concentration, or another warning sign, these clues can alert adults that a teen is distressed. Many concerned adults want to do something to help struggling teens, and this guide can help concerned parents know whether they should take their teen to therapy, the ER, or another treatment level.

Salt Lake Behavioral Health has been serving adolescents experiencing mental health crises for 10 years, and we’ve compiled a list of 5 important things to know about mental health inpatient care, therapy, and crisis care for teens.

1. It is common for teens to feel this way

Many parents worry about their teen, and feel overwhelmed about mental health treatment for them. What parents sometimes don’t realize is that though their teen may be experiencing these symptoms for the first time, and it may seem scary, mental health issues in teens are extremely common, and there are mental health professionals who deal with teens specifically.

The CDC outlined figures for common mental health problems in children:

“ADHD, anxiety problems, behavior problems, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children. Estimates for ever having a diagnosis among children aged 3-17 years, in 2016-19, are given below.

  • ADHD 9.8% (approximately 6.0 million)
  • Anxiety 9.4% (approximately 5.8 million)
  • Behavior problems 8.9% (approximately 5.5 million)
  • Depression 4.4% (approximately 2.7 million)”

Source: Centers for Disease Control

2. It is helpful to know the mental health levels of care

Something that can help parents decide what level of mental health care is appropriate for their teen is understanding the different tiers and admission criteria for each level of care. We will explain them briefly below.

There are five main levels of treatment:

  • Outpatient Therapy
  • Intensive Outpatient Therapy (IOP)
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
  • Acute Psychiatric Hospitalization
  • Residential Treatment Program

Outpatient Therapy

Most parents know about therapy and its potential benefits. Outpatient therapy can be used for anyone who needs support for mental health issues. Frequency can be low, once a month, or quite frequently, weekly or twice weekly. The admission criteria is low, so anyone who feels they would benefit from therapy is invited to try a few sessions.

For parents who know their teen needs help, but don’t know where to start, setting them up with a therapist is recommended.

Intensive Outpatient Therapy

IOP is usually held in a mental health facility and is typically a group setting. Treatment is usually two to three times a week for several hours at a time. This is for teens who need more support than weekly visits with a therapist, but who don’t meet criteria for a higher level of care (the patient is not actively suicidal with a plan, and the patient is not actively self-harming).

Partial Hospitalization Program

In a PHP program, the patient spends most of their days in treatment, but returns home at night. This is commonly used as an aftercare, or step-down, after a patient has been hospitalized full time.

Acute Psychiatric Hospitalization

When a teen is in crisis, it may become necessary to admit them to a psychiatric unit. If the teen is actively self-harming, has an addiction, or is suicidal with a plan, they can be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a short stay to stabilize. Psychiatric stays are normally 5-8 days. Typical aftercare is PHP or IOP.

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment is when the patient resides in a treatment program for more than 30 days. Programs range in length. Residential programs can address behavioral issues, addictions, criminal behaviors, mental health problems, and a host of other issues.

Although the parent may feel like this is new territory, there are many professionals in the mental health field who are very familiar with adolescent mental health and can help create a treatment plan that will help the teen.

3. Teens are influenced by their friends

Although many parents are aware, it’s important to remember that teens are highly susceptible to pressure from their peers. A study from Penn State researchers studied teen behaviors, and “compared to boys, girls tend to be more influenced by their friends to engage in delinquent behavior, which includes skipping class and fighting.”

4. Parents can encourage healthy habits and coping skills

Parents can have a major impact on their teens’ mental health. Praise and encouragement for positive behaviors and healthy habits, as well as providing opportunities for their teens to have healthy experiences can help the teen develop a healthy self-image and lifestyle.

If your teen is in crisis, don’t hesitate to get them emergency mental health crisis treatment. Salt Lake Behavioral Health can provide a no-cost level of care recommendation, simply call 801-264-6000.