Helping Washington Teens Get the Mental Health Treatment They Need

| Updated: September 12, 2019

Sponsored by Newport Academy

Ask any parent of a teenager if their child is often moody and irritable and you are bound to receive a resounding, “Yes!” While many teenagers feel unhappy at times, others are struggling with adolescent depression, which is increasing at an alarming rate. The rate of teen depression is rising across the country, and Washington State is no exception. In its annual survey assessing youth depression statistics, Mental Health America (MHA) found that 12.54 percent of teens and young adults in Washington State suffer from major depression. The MHA’s survey ranked Washington at number 37 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of prevalence of teen depression.

While the percentage of adolescent depression is on the rise, the report found that a vast majority of these adolescents are not receiving treatment. In fact, the MHA survey determined that 62.5 percent of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health services. That means that six out of 10 teens and young adults in Washington State—those who are most at risk of suicidal thoughts, difficulty in school, and difficulty in relationships—aren’t getting the care they need.

Legislation and the Access to Care

Here’s one thing you should know: Washington State laws allow individuals over age 13 to refuse mental healthcare. That means that, until recently, parents couldn’t initiate appointments with a mental health professional unless their children agreed to it—even when teens urgently needed assessment and treatment. Luckily, new legislation is addressing this issue. A recent bill now provides a process for parents to initiate evaluations for teen outpatient and residential treatment, as well as additional forms of mental healthcare.

While parents may now have the legal right to initiate an assessment for their teen, many parents find that their adolescent resists treatment. “Whereas adults have typically developed the ability to ‘play the tape forward’ and anticipate the likely consequences of their actions, adolescents can be more impulsive and can act against their own self-interests, because their brains are focused more on here-and-now responses and perceived needs,” says Jennifer MacLeamy, PsyD, Executive Director at the Northern California campus of Newport Academy, a series of evidence-based healing centers for teens, young adults, and families struggling with mental health issues, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

Five Tips for Overcoming Teen Resistance to Treatment

For parents eager to help their teens who may be struggling with depression but who are resisting treatment:

  • Find out exactly what they’re concerned about so you know how to address their specific fears.
  • Use an analogy that reframes the situation: For example, therapy is in some ways like working with a coach to learn new skills.
  • Make an agreement that they will go to a set number of therapy sessions (at least five) before deciding whether or not to continue treatment.
  • Go to therapy as a family. If everyone is part of the process, teens are less likely to feel singled out.

Thankfully, awareness regarding mental health issues for teens and young adults in Washington State is on the rise. To further this progress, both parents and policymakers need to take action, so that adolescents can get the support they need to recover and thrive.

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