Teenager sitting alone feeling depressed

How Intensive Outpatient Programs Help Combat Teenage Depression

7 min.

Teenage years can be incredibly challenging. Intensive outpatient programs are beneficial when coping with teenage depression and other mental health disorders.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

November 4, 2021


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The teenage years can be incredibly challenging, and it’s completely normal for teenagers to experience bouts of irritability, fatigue, and sadness. However, when symptoms last for two weeks or more, it could signal depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 13.3 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17—or 3.2 million teens—experienced “at least one major depressive episode” in 2017. What’s more, 70.77 percent of individuals with depression experienced at least one instance of “severe impairment” that interfered with life.

Without treatment, depression can take a serious toll, disrupting an individual’s ability to function, carry out daily activities, and connect with others. Fortunately, depression is highly treatable, with most treatment plans including psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. If your teen needs more support than weekly therapy sessions offer, an intensive outpatient program (IOP) might be the best option.

Intensive outpatient programs are designed to deliver the intensity and focus of inpatient programs while letting teens maintain their lives in an outpatient setting. If your teen can’t commit to an inpatient program due to academic responsibilities, family dynamics, or other commitments, or they don’t meet the necessary criteria for an inpatient treatment program, an IOP can provide the high level of care they need to ensure a successful recovery. Here’s how intensive outpatient treatment can help your teen combat depression or other mental health disorders and live a productive, fulfilling life.

Maintain social support during treatment

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Isolation and loneliness can negatively impact the recovery process, and social support from close friends and family members can make all the difference during mental health treatment. Although teens need to dedicate time to treatment after enrolling in an IOP, they’ll be able to spend time at home, hang out with friends, and talk to their parents. Similarly, they won’t have to uproot their daily routine to spend time at a treatment facility, which can further exacerbate feelings of stress and isolation.

Intensive outpatient treatment provides teens with an opportunity to confide in family members and seek emotional support throughout the recovery process. With that said, it’s best to let your teen open up to you as they feel comfortable. Parents and caregivers should avoid prying into their teen’s treatment or asking intrusive questions about their progress.

Throughout their IOP, listen to your teen, acknowledge their feelings, and offer your unconditional support—even when times get tough. The best way to support your teen through treatment is to set aside some time each day to talk. During this time, you should focus all of your attention on your teen without any distractions. If you have any previous experiences with individual counseling or mental health concerns, consider opening up about these experiences to your teen to show them that it’s okay not to be okay.

The simple act of connecting face-to-face can play an important role in combatting your teen’s mental health struggles. Remember: talking about mental health won’t make the situation worse. In fact, your continued support throughout treatment can help ensure their long-term recovery.

Whenever possible, help your teen stay connected to others by inviting friends over or encouraging them to go out. If your teen tends to isolate themselves or withdraw from others, try participating in activities that involve other families or give your teen the opportunity to meet other teenagers.

Protect privacy and confidentiality

When it comes to personal issues, especially mental health, many teenagers find it difficult to open up about their problems. In some situations, mental health stigma might lead to feelings of shame or embarrassment. Depression and other mental health disorders can take a serious toll when left untreated, so it’s essential to pay attention to your teen’s mood and find opportunities to check in—even if they find it difficult to talk about their feelings.

Even if you’re not sure what exactly the problem is, it’s important to seek professional help to address troublesome behaviors and emotions. Depression, for example, often coincides with other conditions, such as substance use and anxiety disorders, and seeking professional help is the first step to getting your teen the support they need. Although your teen has nothing to feel ashamed about, an intensive outpatient treatment program can help protect their privacy and confidentiality throughout the treatment process.

Teenagers might feel intimidated by inpatient programs due to the lack of confidentiality, or the need to explain a prolonged absence to their friends, family members, and teachers. With IOPs, teens can reach out to their treatment team throughout the recovery process with any questions or concerns. Plus, with virtual IOP programs, teens can access mental health treatment without going through their parents, even if they don’t live near a treatment facility, and they won’t have to rely on their parents to drive them to and from therapy appointments.

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Many IOPs also offer flexible schedules, including evening and weekend sessions, so teenagers don’t have to miss out on school or extracurricular activities to enjoy high-quality care. At Charlie Health, our expert clinicians work with every client to make sure treatment is accessible and convenient for them.

Our innovative video-based treatment options provide a safe, convenient option for our clients to access comprehensive treatment—all from the comfort and privacy of home. Teenagers and family members can access quality care using a smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

Build a sense of community

group of teens putting their hands together for team building activity

IOPs employ group therapy programming, which gives teens a valuable opportunity to connect with other adolescents and young adults in similar situations. With typical outpatient treatment programs, group therapy might not be available, as many therapists only offer individual therapy services.

Even though group therapy might seem intimidating, studies show that sessions can be an extremely rewarding component of mental health treatment. During group sessions, members can share their experiences with specific mental health issues, learn helpful coping strategies, and work on their interpersonal skills. Your teen will be able to meet new people, make friends, and find people who genuinely understand what they’re going through. With an IOP, your teen can start developing a strong support network that can help them cope during tough times.

Group workshops are led by a psychologist, counselor, or another type of mental health professional, and most groups consist of 5–15 people. Many groups are designed to target specific mental health concerns, such as depression, social anxiety, or substance abuse. Other groups focus on general topics, like improving social skills, overcoming low self-esteem, or navigating loss. Group counseling can serve as a sounding board, and members of the group can help others come up with specific ideas to overcome specific challenges, holding each other accountable along the way.

At Charlie Health, we don’t place our treatment groups together based on geographic location like traditional in-person programs. Instead, we group patients for psychotherapy and addiction treatment based on their individual needs, preferences, backgrounds, and experiences to create supportive, healing treatment groups.

Group therapy plays an important role in reducing stigma, providing invaluable insights, and being challenged to make changes. It also encourages active participation in the therapy process that won’t always shine through during individual therapy. Some of the best feedback IOP patients will receive will likely come from their peers, not just their clinicians. As a result, group sessions can be invaluable for long-term treatment success.

Comprehensive, individualized treatment Plans

If you’re navigating treatment options for the first time, it might seem like there’s no option between weekly therapy sessions, emergency room visits, or inpatient programs. Whether you’re searching for the middle ground between inpatient and outpatient treatment, or you’re searching for a higher level of care for your teen, intensive outpatient programs can help you establish an appropriate treatment plan. Charlie Health’s video-based IOP for teenagers and young adults provides high-quality care with comprehensive, individualized treatment plans based on your teen’s unique mental health concerns, preferences, and experiences.

Charlie Health’s intensive outpatient programs involve evidence-based treatment modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills, mindfulness practices, and group therapy. Unlike traditional IOPs, we don’t just treat the symptoms of depression, substance abuse, mood disorders, and other mental health conditions. To help our clients work toward successful recovery, we focus on treating the whole person from the time they enter our programs to discharge and beyond.

Our online IOP provides a high level of care for every client, with comprehensive solutions ranging from supported groups and family therapy to individual therapy. Each week, our clients engage in 9–11 hours of treatment from the comfort of home. As your teen progresses through their virtual IOP treatment, we’ll continue to modify their treatment plan to provide a supportive environment throughout their journey.

Contact Us

Many teens feel embarrassed, ashamed, or overwhelmed by their mental health struggles. Be patient and let your teen know that there’s no shame in seeking help. Whether you’re exploring treatment options for the first time or searching for extra support, intensive outpatient treatment can help your teen combat their depression in a safe, supportive space.

At Charlie Health, our IOP provides a high-quality, comprehensive treatment solution that includes supported groups, family therapy, and individual therapy, typically lasting 6–10 weeks. Our compassionate, experienced team of clinicians is here to listen to your needs, answer your questions, and help you start the healing process. Get started today.

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