5 Ways We’re Addressing the Adolescent Mental Health Crisis
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5 Ways We’re Addressing the Adolescent Mental Health Crisis

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News about the crisis in adolescent mental health seems to be everywhere these days. 

At Lightfully, we’re committed to doing something about that crisis, with a significant investment in programs, staff, and facilities that can provide teens with high quality, evidence-based mental health care that is uniquely designed to meet their needs.

Simply put, adolescent mental health care is more important now than ever. Too many teenagers continue to struggle with increased mental and emotional distress following the once-in-a-generation disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while a global pandemic was certainly a lot for still-growing young minds to process, the overall mental health trends for adolescents have been raising concerns for a decade now, especially in a digital world of always-on screens and non-stop content feeds. 

According to a recent Youth Mental Health Advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General, one in three high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness—a startling 40 percent increase from how teens answered that same question just 10 years ago. Depressive and anxiety symptoms doubled during the pandemic, the report found, and other negative emotions and behaviors, such as impulsivity and irritability, also increased.

Against this landscape, Lightfully is fully committed to being part of the solution, with a comprehensive approach to care and services specifically structured for our adolescent clients. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the Lightfully Difference-Makers in fulfilling the care needs of young people.

Difference-Maker #1: Increased Access to Care

One of the most fundamental challenges for high quality adolescent care today comes down to basic logistics like availability and access. Who doesn’t know someone (or is someone) whose teen needs help, but potential therapists are either booked for months or simply not even accepting new patients?

At Lightfully, we’re meeting that challenge by opening at least eight new treatment centers across California specifically designed for adolescents in the next year alone—and with staff specifically trained to meet the unique needs of younger patients, wherever we work with them: inpatient, outpatient, and virtual.

“Adolescents are facing a mental health care crisis, and they need access to care that is designed to meet their specific needs,” says Lightfully CEO Jennifer Steiner. “A big part of the Lightfully mission is to provide that care.”

Lightfully’s newest adolescent program offering, our residential treatment center in Encinitas, California, opens at the end of August. It’s designed to serve up to six patients at a time for stays of 30 days or more. Like all of our adolescent programs, it is specifically for ages 12-17, all genders, from middle school through high school.

Difference-Maker #2: A Nurturing Environment

Working through negative emotions can be a difficult process for adolescents, who often struggle to voice their feelings during treatment. That’s why it’s especially important to help our younger patients adjust to the environment at Lightfully.

For adolescent patients in our residential treatment centers, we make sure to put the emphasis on “residential,” with locations that feel like (and are!) homes. Patients can stay in either single- or double-occupancy bedrooms, which allows them to not only have their own space, but also interact with their peers. There’s outdoor space, art rooms, classroom space, and a fully stocked kitchen.

“Since the adolescent brain is still ‘under construction,’ we have such a unique opportunity to help shape their experiences,” says Megan Ledet, LCSW, Vice President of Adolescent Services. “Teens often struggle to verbalize their feelings and thoughts, and that’s because they need help to understand those internal workings.” 

It’s why Lightfully’s treatment environments are designed to be warm and nurturing, so that teens can more easily acclimate, get comfortable, and feel more and more confident about sharing their emotions, Ledet says—ultimately, gaining the skills they need to spur healing and change in their lives.

Difference-Maker #3: Process Based Therapy

The foundation of Lightfully’s treatment for all patients is our process-based therapy (PBT) clinical model. 

Instead of drilling down on specific symptoms and diagnoses to guide the path of treatment, our clinicians use the PBT framework to target the underlying core processes that lead to suffering for each patient—and then create a personalized care plan based on the appropriate evidence-based interventions.

Many clinicians today are increasingly trying to integrate a wider set of evidence-based modalities into their treatment plans, but until recently, there hasn’t been a consistent framework to do that in a systematic and intentional way. That where PBT comes in.

“What’s unique about process-based therapy isn’t just that it’s an integrated model,” says Nicole Siegfried, Lightfully’s Chief Clinical Officer. “It’s more that it utilizes a framework for how you integrate these interventions. That’s something that’s really been missing with previous models.” 

PBT provides a wider, more holistic view that is central to Lightfully’s treatment model. And it’s especially important for adolescent patients, who are often facing a few different challenges, rather than just a single “fits-in-this-box” diagnosis. 

Using PBT, we use feedback from patients, families, referents, and our clinicians to develop a treatment plan that’s curated to each person’s individual needs and matched with the most effective interventions. This holistic approach to treatment identifies the roots of all of a patient’s negative thoughts and behaviors, rather than focusing on a set of symptoms or a singular diagnosis.

Difference-Maker #4: Staff and Training

All clinicians at Lightfully are trained using our dynamic Equip training model, which is a feedback-based system that helps our practitioners develop their expertise by continually learning from one another.

Clinicians are taught using the PBT framework, which includes the ability to implement data-driven interventions in treatment plans that are especially effective when treating adolescents. These interventions include DNA-V, a model that helps patients promote strength and healing while realigning their core values; and the Safe and Sound Protocol, which uses sound to activate the nervous system.

Developing mastery in multiple evidence-based interventions is particularly important when caring for adolescents, who may need different ways to feel comfortable with their treatment and be willing to accept help. By including these models in their care plans, clinicians can work with patients to find the treatment program that’s the best fit for them.

Perhaps most important, our adolescent teams have experience working with young people—and the natural ability to connect and build strong relationships with younger clients so they can express their emotions and focus on improving their well-being. 

“Our diverse clinical team, client care technician team, program managers, chefs—they just bring in this beautiful bouquet of personalities and experiences,” says Stephanie Thompson, DSW, LCSW, Lightfully’s director of clinical operations. 

Difference-Maker #5: A Sustainable Support Network

To combat the adolescent mental health crisis, it’s important that we all take time to listen to the needs of young adults. It’s our responsibility—as family members, caregivers, physicians, and mental health clinicians—to understand the issues that young people are grappling with.

At Lightfully, we help our patients establish a support network that stretches beyond our treatment programs to include people important to them, such as referents and parents. We work closely with our clients’ loved ones during their time at Lightfully by getting their input through family assessments and including them in group therapy sessions.

After all, we want our patients to not only learn to advocate for their well-being, but to also have strong relationships with the people who will be there for them after their time at Lightfully. This will have a long-term impact on adolescents’ healing and overall well-being.

“We want families to be a part of the process,” says Caroline Nichols, LICSW, Lightfully’s National Director of Family and Support Services. “One of our biggest goals is to translate the work that we’ve done back to families and referents. We are just a short-term blip on the radar to stabilize and help the client get back on their feet.”


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