School and Mental Health Treatment

It may be summer, but we all know school is right around the corner. That makes this the perfect time to reflect on school and what it can mean for mental health and eating disorder treatment.

In our work with adolescents, we often see school attendance used as an excuse to postpone treatment. In many cases, this delay can be problematic, as it prolongs the time until a young person gets help with their mental health or eating disorder. Eating disorders and many mental health conditions worsen over time. Multiple studies show, with eating disorders in particular, that (as the Mayo Clinic puts it) “The earlier you get treatment, the more likely you’ll make a full recovery.”

With the easy availability of online schooling options, treatment in partial hospitalization programs (PHP), and intensive outpatient (IOP) programs may make continuing academic progress possible while also getting the treatment a young client needs.

There have been a number of recent news articles that complicate long-held ideas about how we balance school and treatment.

Teen Girls in Crisis

A recent report by the CDC shows categorically that teenagers, and female-identifying teenagers in particular, are facing a statistically alarming level of sadness and hopelessness. Here are a few of the concerning findings:

  • 3 in 5 girls felt persistently sad and hopeless, a marker for depressive symptoms, in 2021, increasing substantially from 2011.
  • More than 1 in 4 girls reported they seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021, up significantly from 2011.
  • More than 1 in 10 girls reported they attempted suicide in 2021, also increasing significantly over the decade.
  • Alcohol use is also higher among girls than boys.

This led the CDC to the conclusion that “A combination of complex factors can place young people at high risk for suicide, depression, substance use disorder, poor academic performance, and other severe consequences.”

The statistics for eating disorders are, if anything, even more dire. According to NBC news, “Teen eating disorders have never been this rampant — or this severe. Hospitalizations for eating disorders spiked during the pandemic, doubling among adolescent girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” The report goes on to explain that among people younger than 17, healthcare visits across all eating disorders grew to “more than 100,000 in 2022. Visits related to anorexia nervosa, which has the highest death rate of any mental illness, jumped 129.26%.”

With this crisis ongoing, the argument for starting treatment without delay has never been stronger.

School Avoidance

Another recent news article, this time in USA Today, discusses “School avoidant behavior, also called school refusal, is when a school-age child refuses to attend school or has difficulty being in school for the entire day. Several mental health experts told USA TODAY it has become a crisis that has gotten worse since the COVID-19 pandemic.”

While school avoidance is a nebulous diagnosis, it seems to be closely tied to some combination of trauma and anxiety, and, as USA Today concludes, “School avoidance is a complicated condition that neither parents nor school systems are fully equipped to handle.”

We wonder if the growing prevalence of school avoidant behavior is another argument against delaying treatment in favor of school.

Stigma and school

While schools and educators are invaluable partners in mental health and eating disorder treatment and prevention, there’s no denying the prevalence of stigmas that can prevent treatment and healing inside a school setting. In the USA Today article, one student asked that “she not be fully named because of mental health stigma.”

Here are some key points to consider when discussing stigma in schools:

Lack of Awareness and Understanding

Stigma often stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding about eating disorders or mental health conditions. Students, teachers, and even some parents may hold misconceptions about mental health, leading to biases and stereotypes. This lack of awareness can contribute to the stigmatization of individuals with mental health concerns.

Fear of Being Labeled or Judged

Students may fear being labeled as “crazy,” “weak,” or “attention-seekers” if they openly discuss their mental health struggles or eating disorders. This fear of judgment can discourage students from seeking help, as they worry about negative consequences such as social exclusion or being treated differently by peers and teachers.

Perceived Weakness and Shame

There is often an unfair perception that experiencing mental health issues is a sign of weakness or personal failure. This misguided belief can make students feel ashamed, causing them to hide their struggles rather than seeking the support they need.

Bullying and Teasing

Students dealing with eating disorders and mental health challenges may become targets of bullying and teasing. Their vulnerabilities may be exploited, further contributing to feelings of isolation and reinforcing the negative stigma associated with mental health.

If a client’s diagnosis warrants treatment that’s more intensive than outpatient clinicians can provide, it may be that out of school is more comfortable than in. The conditions being diagnosed won’t simply go away, and in many cases will get far worse for the delay.

the road to wellness starts by seeking help. today.

Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP), supported housing, and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, of all genders.

To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.

Belong. Heal. Grow.

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