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Finding Emotional Support for Struggling Teens and Young Adults Amidst COVID-19

by Jeremy McGeorge

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic add to tough times for families whose adolescents are already struggling. At The Bertram Group, we are tracking how the novel coronavirus is affecting access to behavioral health care, and we continue to be a resource to help struggling young adults find the residential treatment centers, outdoor programs, and specialized schools needed  to establish a healthy equilibrium.

The landscape of daily and weekly behavioral health care has shifted. One of the most immediate effects in this arena is that conversations which previously took place at a provider’s office are now being administered through teletherapy. The filter of a screen, however, presents myriad challenges. Human beings crave connectedness, and as we are all discovering these days, people often interact differently through digital formats. Being physically present in a space dedicated to a specific activity encourages intimacy and efficiency in communication. Teens who are less than enthusiastic participants in this process may be more difficult to motivate through teletherapy. Imagine trying to coax a disinterested teen to sit down at a computer to engage in some of the hardest self-reflection they will encounter during their entire lifetime. At home, avoiding questions can be as easy as closing the laptop and taking refuge behind slammed doors.

In addition, families may encounter scenarios in which hospitals and emergency rooms are increasingly focused on COVID-19 patients. Patients seeking stabilization for crises relating to mental health, substance abuse, and other behavioral health issues may be redirected to residential centers, outdoor behavioral programs, or short-term stabilization units. The follow-up work, which often involves patients coming to a hospital for several hours each day for intense therapy, may be now delivered through teletherapy. This is likely to be less effective because the culture of being with others in similar situations often contributes to a heightened awareness and desire for change.

Families who seek help for struggling teens most often start by looking for the closest resources, which they can blend into daily life with the goal of building healthy new routines. Unfortunately, all of these options are currently online. Sometimes a residential program is the key to helping teens hit the reset button. Residential and outdoor behavioral health programs have the benefit of focusing participant attention solely on a culture of accountability and making healthy choices. They also can give overstressed young adults and parents a productive respite and the opportunity to make a fresh start. This may be particularly beneficial if anxiety about larger world events is exacerbating an adolescent’s difficulties. Given the current limitations of teletherapy, families may increasingly turn to residential and emotional growth programs to give their children the community experience they need to refocus on their health and future. Families may also be more open to considering programs that are farther afield.

At The Bertram Group, we have a deep knowledge of the many opportunities—locally and nationally—that may de-escalate the stresses of this complex time. We will continue to follow developments in this field closely. We are always available to assist you in finding the best available resources to help our teens and young adults regain health, a strong sense of self, and get their educations back on track.

Jeremy McGeorge specializes in serving families whose children need nontraditional services as part of their educational plan. He can be reached at