Adolescence is a vulnerable time. A time when teens and young adults are questioning who they are, what they want out of life, and what their futures might hold.
They are veritable works in progress and revocably shaped by their environment and past experiences. One moment they may appear cognitively alert, the next desperately oblivious and impulsive. This is also the time that the first symptoms of serious emotional disorders and serious mental health disorders emerge.
Two different national surveys published from the Centers for Disease Control in August 2020 show three alarming trends in adolescents and young adults:
- In grades 7-12, 56 percent of the females and 48 percent of the males reported sexual violence and dating violence by a peer in the form of touching, lewd comments or being forced to participate in a sexual activity.
- In the 18-25-year-old age group, 75 percent of the respondents reported mental health symptoms and 25 percent of that same group reported that they have seriously considered suicide.
- During the pandemic four times the number of young adults have experienced depression and three times the number of young adults have experienced anxiety than in times before the pandemic, some with lingering effects of trauma.
With the above relentless array of external forces at play, those young adults with emerging serious mental health (SMI) challenges are at a marked disadvantage compared to those without these challenges. For individuals with SMI, seeking productive and independent lives is tantamount to climbing Mount Everest.
The risk of serious mental illness emerging is all the more a concern with the pandemic when abuse and victimization could lead to deep-seated trauma in a large population of young adults, which if repeatedly experienced and left untreated, a good percentage of these young adults could grow into adults with serious disabling mental illnesses. Their odds of homelessness, admission to hospitals, mental health facilities and/or prisons is extremely high.
However, many of the therapeutic programs that exist today are based on the needs of adults over the age of 25, and as we all know, the needs of adolescents and young adults are much different. Until now.
One promising program, Healthy Transitions, touted by the Substance Abuse Mental Health Service Administration (SAMSHA) specifically caters to the period that many of us remember grappling with. Designed for youth between the ages of 16-25, the program is showing strong results when these more serious symptoms are addressed quickly with new specialized practices that can reduce the level of lifelong disability.
The World Health Organization reports that mental illness is the number one cause of disability in the world. Young adults with the first symptoms of illnesses such as bipolar illness, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders take on average 10 years for the person to accept that they have the illness and receive the types of treatment we now know will help them lead productive and happy lives.
Specialized techniques such as shared decision making, mental illness education and self-management along with closely monitored, low dose medications and other intensive services are aimed at preventing young adults from becoming chronically disabled. While the illness may not be completely cured, interventions such as the preceding can greatly improve their quality of life and ability to function independently.
Newport Mental Health will be opening a new Youth Center on 42 Valley Road in Middletown with Healthy Transitions at the heart of its array of services. It works by coordinating youth who experience serious mental illnesses or emotional disorders with a team of family and community members from local educational, employment, housing, and behavioral health agencies. This new program is open to all youth and young adults regardless of insurance type. In the past more intensive evidence-based practices were only funded by Medicaid. Our new federal grant, CCBHC, allows us to provide these intensive services and supports even when they are uninsured on are on their parents’ commercial insurance that does not typically covering what research tells us works best.
Youth needs may vary; some may have serious mental illness or emotional disorders along with learning disabilities. Some may not be working, in school or in vocational programs. This group of individuals is often the most likely to fall through the cracks in society and the least likely to reach out for services and supports that could help them.
The Healthy Transitions program actively seeks out those young adults through intensive outreach, awareness campaigns, and referrals to treatment. The program implements age-appropriate, culturally sensitive services and supports that are driven by the youth themselves with involvement from family, business leaders and faith-based organizations. It also provides a warm hand off if or when young adults continue to need treatment when they become older adults.
With the assumption, that there are a multitude of internal and external factors revolving around a young person that will help them turn into able-bodied future decision-makers and contributing adults, communities can help by creating more programs that cater specifically to the transition between adolescence into adulthood.
With the pandemic shining a light on systemic flaws on the delivery of public health services, perhaps now is the time to implement programs to bolster new and improved behavioral health programs for young adults.