Mental health problems are rapidly losing stigma as more and more people are publicly opening up about their struggles.
So, it may seem surprising to hear a mental health professional call the issues and the new trend “too normalized.”
Dustin Wagner, an experienced therapist and the CEO of Paradigm Treatment, says talking about mental health challenges is one thing. Talking about them and getting help is another and key to making a lasting, positive change, the way Paradigm is set up to do.
Social media posts about personal struggles that generate significant attention might not be the best motivators to seek help as it turns out: Wagner says it could be interpreted as a badge of honor to live with certain conditions. And it should not be.
On the other hand, publicly prioritizing mental health and getting better the way athletes Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles did is one option.
The good news: The issues are real, but you do have some control over your state of mind?
Taking back control is the quest for teens and young adults at Paradigm Treatment, which recently became an in-network provided for Anthem Blue Cross. With locations in Malibu and San Rafael (and an upcoming Austin, Texas facility), the California centers accommodate 42 clients ages 12 to 26 for five to eight weeks of intense individual and group sessions. Those include family therapy – an absolutely crucial element in many cases, according to Wagner. The clinical and medical staff address depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, personality disorders and light to moderate co-occurring substance abuse.
Medical issues have been additionally difficult for many people this past year with the added stress of the pandemic and restricted access to help. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from August 2020 to February 2021 show a five percent increase in adults experiencing anxiety and depression and a 2.5 percent increase in unmet mental health needs.
Additionally, more children and teens are ending up in emergency rooms – a 24 percent increase for ages 5 to 11 and a 31 percent increase for ages 12-17 compared to 2019. The numbers are concerning if not alarming.
“People are struggling and they’re not getting help early on until it becomes a crisis,” says Wagner, adding that statistics show many waiting for years before reaching out.
A typical Paradigm client is a high-functioning teen or young adult – smart, athletic, insightful, on the surface just like his or her peers, but struggling inside with negative, anxious thinking that debilitates navigating everyday life. He or she may not always realize something’s going on, which is where Paradigm comes in.
“We help parents handle the difficult conversations if they think there’s a problem at home while determining if residential treatment is the right path forward. Additionally, our website, paradigmtreatment.com, is full of resources and information on young people and mental health. We’re exceptional at coaching parents on how to handle these situations,” Wagner says.
Teenagers know how to fit in, appearing OK and just getting through this stage of life. That’s why it’s not always obvious when they’re struggling, but there are some indicators – consistent and pervasive lower mood, loss of appetite, lack of sleep, substance abuse, and self-harm, just to name a few – that parents can be on the lookout for.
Checking into a quality residential treatment facility like Paradigm offers a chance to come into a stable environment to take a break from day-to-day stresses, the dynamics at home, things going on in the community, and just focus on mental healing. Wagner says, “An important part of the process is working with the whole family to ensure each patient has the best chance for overall improvement in quality of life.”
Since therapy is not a one size fits all proposition, Paradigm’s staff conducts a thorough assessment of each potential client, including past and present treatments and goals for the future. Aside from daily therapeutic activities (which could include working with horses and surfing), the holistic approach at Paradigm also involves nutrition, education and fun activities, such as movie outings, although the latter have been affected by the pandemic.
“We don’t want people to be bored, but we also know that you can only do this intensive work so fast, so we try to find the right pace,” Wagner says. Our residential treatment involves unpacking the past, talking through traumas, working on life skills, and identifying feelings in real time at a much-heightened level than periodic visits with a therapist ever could. “We create a safe and stable environment for young people to feel comfortable so they can do this really hard, scary work.”
At the end of the stay, clients are sent home with a clear plan to continue the work. “It’s that kind of complete attention that makes Paradigm stand out from competition,” Wagner says. “You can do great work while you’re with us in residential, but if you don’t have an exception aftercare plan or a transitional plan, you can make progress and then return home and backslide,” he says, adding the continuation could be meeting with an outpatient therapist or recently launched telecare for check-ins with Paradigm clinicians.
Working with a team of highly educated and experienced mental health professionals at any treatment center can come with a hefty price tag. Paradigm has contracts with several insurance major carriers to assist with that burden and can work with most every major carrier out of network. A recent contract with Anthem makes Paradigm an in-network provider.
Throughout its life-changing process, Paradigm monitors how effective its work is and makes any adjustments necessary. Results are tracked annually in the form of a comprehensive data-driven outcome study.
“We’re aiming for healing, obviously, and we love it when we can ‘fix’ people,” he concludes. “The outcomes that we’re seeing tell us that our clients are experiencing more hope, more life satisfaction, better connection with their peers, and more importantly, with their family.”
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