Types Of Mental Health Treatment For Teens And Young Adults

World Mental Health Day on October 10 is designed to bring awareness to mental health, help reduce stigma around mental health challenges, and provide education on treatment options. Information and support is vital for families in light of the current teen and young adult mental health crisis.

Adolescent treatment for teenage depression, teen anxiety, and other teen mental health challenges takes time and care.
Adolescent treatment for teenage depression, teen anxiety, and other teen mental health challenges takes time and care. Photo Credit: Newport Academy

Today, one in five teens has a diagnosable mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety. Moreover, many adolescents don’t get the mental health treatment they need. In fact, six out of 10 teens with depression and eight out of 10 teens with anxiety don’t receive treatment.

Assessment is the first step in getting a teen or young adult the care they need. Following diagnosis, the next step is ensuring that they receive the right level of care in the appropriate setting.

The Primary Types of Mental Health Treatment

Adolescent treatment for teenage depression, teen anxiety, and other teen mental health challenges takes time and care. Thus, different stages of the healing process may require different types of treatment. In addition, optimal treatment for mental health issues takes into account an adolescent’s individual needs and situation.

Experts recommend the best approach for each phase of treatment. For example, teens might receive treatment first in a residential setting, then go to an outpatient program, and subsequently receive services at a community teen mental health center.

There are three main types of adolescent mental health treatment:

Residential—in a homelike setting, preferably for 90 or more days

• Hospital inpatient—in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital, usually for no more than 30 days

Outpatient—in an outpatient clinic, community mental health center, or therapist’s office, for as long as needed

Let’s take a look at each of these treatment options and how they support teens.

Teen Residential Treatment

Research shows that residential programs are an effective approach to treatment of depression in adolescence. Residential treatment successfully addresses teen anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders. In general, experts recommend 90 days of residential treatment for successful outcomes.

Residential treatment services can be traced back to the early 1900s. Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud, and her colleagues at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society wanted to improve their care methods for children in crisis, so they created the first residential adolescent treatment facilities for teens with emotional and behavioral disorders.

Teen Residential Treatment Programs 

Residential treatment programs, sometimes called rehabs, are live-in healthcare facilities. They offer a structured environment and 24-hour monitoring. Residential treatment is often helpful for teenagers who have not responded to outpatient treatment.

The first step in a residential treatment program is a comprehensive evaluation assessing an adolescent’s emotional, behavioral, medical, educational, and social needs. Subsequently, treatment teams create individualized treatment plans.

While in residential treatment, clients live in a comfortable, homelike setting and are supervised by trained staff—including psychiatrists, therapists, recovery counselors, nurses, dietitians, and experiential therapy practitioners. In addition, teen residential programs include academics. For example, teen treatment at Newport Academy includes a minimum of 30 hours of clinical and experiential therapy each week plus 20 hours of academic study and tutoring.

According to research, residential treatment is most effective when it takes a holistic approach—addressing mind, body, and spirit—and uses a variety of treatment approaches. A review study of 10 years of research found that the best residential treatment provides multiple modalities—for example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Attachment-Based Family Therapy, etc.

Inpatient Teen Treatment

Inpatient teen treatment is a type of mental health treatment for teens or adults in the acute phase of a mental health disorder. Inpatient treatment involves an overnight or longer stay in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital. Thirty days is usually the maximum time for inpatient treatment.

Psychiatric hospitals employ both psychiatrists and physicians to treat mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Some hospitals provide substance abuse treatment as well. In addition, a psychiatric hospital might have a specialized unit for eating disorders.

Following inpatient treatment, those who require long-term care are transferred to teen residential treatment or another type of mental health treatment.

Outpatient Treatment Options

Outpatient treatment provides clients with ongoing care, programming, and monitoring. At the same time, they integrate back into their day-to-day life and home environments. In outpatient treatment, teens live at home outside treatment hours.

Outpatient treatment for mental health conditions and substance use disorders varies in the types and intensity of services offered, ranging from intensive day treatment (comparable to residential programs) to low-intensity models. The needs of the individual determine the appropriate types of mental health treatment in outpatient settings.

Partial Hospitalization Programs

Teens in a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) live at home and receive treatment in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital—for six or more hours a day, every day or most days of the week. PHP programs are sometimes referred to as Day Programs or Day Treatment Programs.

A PHP program includes group therapy, psycho-educational sessions, and individual counseling.

Intensive Outpatient Programs

Intensive outpatient treatment is designed to help teens transitioning from residential treatment continue their recovery in a structured and secure environment. Teen Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) are similar to PHPs. But clients attend for fewer hours—three to four hours a day, several days a week. An adolescent IOP program may be part of a hospital’s services or an extension of a residential program.

The goal of IOP therapy, as well as any outpatient treatment services, is to sustain and improve positive change. Studies show that intensive outpatient treatment is effective for substance abuse as well as other mental health conditions.

An Intensive Outpatient Program for young adults includes:

• Individual therapy sessions

• Experiential therapies

• Group sessions

• Psychiatric and medical management

After completing a youth outpatient program, teens move from the IOP to less frequent treatment sessions.

Continuing Care for Adolescent Mental Health

No matter what types of mental health treatment a family chooses, continuing care is essential. Once an adolescent is on the path of healing, ongoing support and therapy help maintain health and well-being. Below are options for continuing care.

Community Mental Health Centers: Many towns and cities have centers that provide therapeutic groups and other offerings. In addition, some centers offer yoga and meditation, as well as other experiential approaches to maintaining mental health.

Private Practitioners: After residential and/or outpatient treatment, teens may work with a private mental health clinician. Regular individual sessions help adolescents to firmly establish new, healthy behaviors. Furthermore, family therapy sessions support families to build on new ways of connecting and communicating.

Support Groups: Parent support groups and teen support groups offer encouragement and the wisdom of peers. Some community mental health centers and other community centers offer ongoing support groups.

Therapeutic Day Schools 

Day Schools provide therapeutic environments to support teens’ physical, emotional, behavioral, and academic development. Teens earn high school diplomas or college credit while setting attainable goals for the future. To support this process, Day Schools require teens to commit to abstaining from alcohol or drug use.

Elements of a therapeutic Day School may include the following:

• An accredited curriculum

• College application support

• SAT and ACT prep

• An assessment to determine the appropriate level of care

• Process groups and counseling

• Individual therapy

When teens receive the right treatment at the right time, they have a greater chance of succeeding in recovery, avoiding relapse, and staying happy and healthy.

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