The statistics are staggering: approximately one in five youth aged 13–18 will experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their lives. For half of all people who have a mental illness, symptoms first appear by age 14. By age 24, it’s noticeable in 75 percent, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“In the U.S., suicide rates are higher than ever. We have more kids not getting access to mental health care, because people think they’re too hard to manage,” said Carla Sharp, director of the UH Adolescent Diagnosis Assessment Prevention Treatment center (ADAPT), which offers assessments and individual psychotherapy to children ages 12-17 dealing with emotional and relationship difficulties.
Even when adolescents do get access to care, she said the majority don’t respond to treatment, making them vulnerable to dropping out of school or entering the juvenile justice system. Clearly, better mental health care for adolescents is critical. Cutting-edge treatments are making a difference. ADAPT offers traditional cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as other cutting-edge evidence-based treatments. It is one of the clinics offered by the Psychological Research Service Center in the department of psychology, and it deals with some of the most difficult cases.
“Katie” has borderline personality disorder. When she sought treatment at ADAPT last year, she was 17 and had just been released from inpatient care following a suicide attempt. She had a history of self-harm and marijuana use, and her relationships with friends and family were strained. She had entered foster care after being taken from her birth mother because of substance abuse and was adopted at age three.
At the clinic, Katie underwent mentalization-based therapy (MBT)—a form of psychotherapy that is relatively new to the United States, designed to treat people with borderline personality disorder and first tested in Europe about 20 years ago. Through MBT therapy, Katie was eventually able to recognize how she interacted with other people around her and work through her relationship difficulties.
“You have to know how to interact with people in order to promote positive outcomes,” said Sharp. “If you can do that, you take ownership of your problems, and you are the solution to your problems.”
Katie was treated at ADAPT for about a year. During that time, she quit using drugs and later enrolled in community college—something that was “never in the cards for her.”
“By all accounts she is doing very well,” said Sharp.