Mark was recently discharged from Casa Pacifica’s Camino a Casa program after a 42-day stay. At 15 years old, he was exhibiting some concerning behaviors – threats and attempts of suicide, impulsive behaviors, substance use, and verbal aggression towards his parents.
The feelings and behaviors Mark was experiencing are often associated with depression and other types of mental illness and are more common among teens than some people realize. According to nami.org, 1 in 6 U.S. youth, ages 6 to 17 will encounter a mental health disorder each year. In addition, the rate of suicide among those aged 10 to 24 increased by almost 60% between 2007 and 2018 and suicide is now the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 15-24. (aacap.org 2018)
From the outside, Mark seemed very well put together, he was an overachiever in school and was extremely smart. He did however, have difficulty keeping friends and became very sensitive to rejection of any kind. Like most teenagers, he craved social approval from his peers.
For many youth, the period of adolescence can be turbulent. Social pressure, social media, unrealistic expectations and stress at school are a lot for any teen to handle. Unfortunately, signs and symptoms of what may be more serious mental health issues often go unnoticed. Instead parents and care givers assume a youth is just experiencing normal ‘teen angst.’
According to a 2017 youth survey done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
• 32% of high school students say they have ongoing feelings of sadness or hopelessness
• 17% said they would seriously consider a suicide attempt
• 14% said they have a made a suicide plan
• 7% said they have tried to commit suicide
When he came to Camino a Casa, Mark was very motivated to make changes and improve, as were his parents. He had a lot of insight into his own behaviors and excelled throughout individual, group, and family therapy. His parents were also extremely receptive to feedback from the clinicians and Mark himself. Together, the whole family worked to improve their relationship and practice their new-found communication skills.
Mark was especially engaged during equine therapy, provided every other week. He found the time with the horses to be particularly beneficial to his overall wellness, enjoying the time outdoors in the Southern California sun with the gentle giants. He also found solace in the weekly clinician-led moral reasoning group, challenging himself to think through important issues. These activities ultimately led him to the realization that goals matter and goals are things worth living for.
While in the program, Mark had several superficial self-harm incidents but began to realize he didn’t need to communicate that way. Because of this insight, he began to verbally communicate his pain instead of using suicidality and self-harm to make others feel his pain.
Parents expect teenagers to go through difficult periods as they adjust to becoming young adults but having a child experience such complex thoughts or fall victim to signs or symptoms of mental illness can be overwhelming. With an increasing awareness and acceptance of mental health issues youth like Mark can get the help they need. January is Mental Wellness Month, an example of another opportunity to bring awareness, start conversations, reduce stigma and recognize how vital mental health and wellness is, especially to our youth.
If you or someone you know are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide please reach out to the following:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - (805) 273-8255
National Alliance On Mental Illness - (800) 950-NAMI