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Adolescence, The Developing Brain, and the Myth of a Cure All

Teenagers can be difficult for their parents to understand. Sometimes it’s a lack of communication, but for other families, their teens may be struggling to work through behavioral and emotional challenges. These challenges may present themselves in different ways, but no matter the issue, it is important for parents to remember that there is no magic cure-all. A trained mental health professional can help families correctly identify the problems and create an integrated plan for moving forward.  

The Many Facets of Adolescent Mental Health

During adolescence and young adulthood, the brain is still developing. Because of this, certain psychiatric conditions, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can manifest themselves during this time. Adolescence is also the time when young people will typically start experimenting with substances. This combination of brain changes and the possibility of substance use can make diagnosing mental health conditions challenging. 

For example, many teens have unstable moods, so when they are taken in for a psychiatric evaluation, they are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. And while there are people who experience their first bipolar episode during adolescence, more commonly, what we see are teens and young adults who are using substances. This substance use is what is actually causing their mood to be unstable. In some scenarios, a teen may even go into their evaluation under the influence which then impacts their psychological test and could result in a false diagnosis. 

Substance use is not the only factor that could affect a diagnosis. We may also see teens who have had psychological trauma earlier in their life. Their nervous system interpreted this experience in a traumatic way, which can cause sustained symptomatology, which can then present like bipolar. This trauma can impact that diagnosis a teen may receive if it is nor interpreted correctly. 

Of course, this is not a cut and dried situation. A mental health diagnosis in adolescence cannot be compared to a genetic medical diagnosis, like diabetes. We cannot make the assumption that a mental health diagnosis is going to be fixed the way a medical diagnosis might be. This is in part because our diagnostic categories could use more precision, but also because there are other conditions that may masquerade as mental health issues that are much more serious and tend to be more frequently diagnosed.

The Myth of the Cure All

If you look at what is advertised on TV, you’ll see commercial after commercial of pharmaceuticals that promise that they will greatly improve your quality of life, as long as you ignore the rapidly spoken side effects. Some of which may be fatal. 

This is the myth of the cure all. It’s our belief system, and what we all are looking for. It would be wonderful if there was a magic pill that could solve all of our problems, but that just isn’t the case. Of course medication is an option, but there is always the concern that adolescents are receiving medication for a condition that they do not actually have. What we do know is that psychiatric evaluations and psychotherapy are what work best for adolescent illnesses. When we look at studies that actually compare psychotherapy as treatment for depression and PTSD, we see that psychotherapy is always as effective, if not more effective than medication alone. And medication plus psychotherapy can provide an even better combination for teens when it is prescribed.

An Integrated Treatment Plan

When teens engage in psychotherapy, they are actively working on their issues and learning to cope with their problems. This work gives them ownership in their treatment. Those coping skills become part of their ability to function, and they will carry those skills with them through the rest of their lives. The main problem families tend to run into is that psychotherapy is more expensive than medications, and most insurance companies are unwilling to pay for it. Even with that barrier, it is important to note that medication along is not the most effective form of treatment for adolescents.

When a teen’s behavior has gotten out of control, sometimes additional treatment, such as residential treatment, can be crucial. It is a controlled environment where the entire focus is around the student learning new skills, as well as making positive changes. Time at a residential treatment center also lays a strong foundation for further successful outpatient treatment once they leave the facility.  

Red Mountain Colorado Can Help

Red Mountain Colorado was founded to help struggling teens work through behavioral and emotional challenges. We specialize in the treatment of trauma-related mental health challenges. Throughout programming, we empower teens to build healthy coping skills and habits that they can use to work through the challenges they face.

When a teen struggles with emotional and behavioral issues like depression or anxiety and has at least one other mental health condition present, we call this a dual diagnosis disorder (also known as a co-occurring condition). Our program is structured to treat issues like trauma and depression as well as dual diagnosis disorders. When your teen arrives at our treatment facility, our staff will assess if there are any underlying mental health symptoms. With these learnings, we take an integrated approach to create a path to psychosocial wellness. For more information please call (970) 316-7594.