Being a teen with a mental illness is tough. During high school, you work hard to hide your mental health diagnosis and symptoms to avoid being labeled or otherwise treated differently. You try to hide when you take your medications and tell your friends you’re sick when you have an appointment for therapy.
So, what do you do about your mental health when you move out after your high school graduation and start college or a job?
Suddenly, you’re in total charge of your own health and your doctor’s appointments and filling your prescriptions and getting to your therapy appointments . . . it’s a lot! It becomes clear very quickly just how much your parents supported you through your illness and how much they took care of for you. Now, it’s time for you to manage your mental health.
Once you are on your own, you have to come to terms with your condition, make a personal connection with your physician, start making your own therapy appointments, manage your medications, take good care of yourself, and be able to recognize the symptoms of an episode.
Recognizing your Condition
Sometimes when a young person develops a mental health condition, parents want to shield that young person from any stigma or possible feelings of being crazy or otherwise sick. But once you are on your own, it is essential that you learn everything you to manage your mental health.
Make an appointment with your physician and your therapist to discuss how best to treat your condition and take care of yourself. Do some of your own research into the condition. Learn about the physiology of your brain and why it is doing what it is. Examine any childhood traumas or events that could have triggered your condition (do this under the guidance of your therapist).
Also, take some time to learn about your medications. What is it that they do to help you? How do they work with the brain? What are the side effects that may show up? How much is your medication? What happens if I miss a dose? What if I don’t have what it takes to manage my mental health? Remember that your medications are a crucial part of your mental health care.
Remember, eventually, you will have to start paying for all your medications and doctor’s appointments yourself. It is necessary to be aware of these costs because most mental health conditions last a lifetime. If you have questions about your condition and how the meds work, make an appointment with your family physician to have a conversation about these things.
Connecting with your Physician
Your family doctor is a critical member of your healthcare team. This doctor may have been treating you for years or you may choose a new doctor once you leave your parent’s home. But don’t go into that decision without thought and discussion. Do some research on the doctor for his or her level of education and experience, look at current and past patient reviews online, and above all, find out if that doctor will accept your current insurance plan (whether that be your parents’ or your own).
During your first appointment on your own, talk to your doctor about anything you would otherwise have been embarrassed to discuss in front of your parents. Lots of times, teens don’t want to talk about sex or other intimate things in front of their mom or dad. Once you are on your own, be free to discuss anything. There is no need to be embarrassed. Your doctor has heard everything – believe it. He or she won’t be shocked or think you are weird. This is what they went to school for. You need to trust your doctors. They are there to help you manage your mental health.
Sometimes, the most embarrassing part is the physical exam. For young people, who are still developing at 18 or 19, there is a shyness about being naked in front of a stranger. Rest assured, there is nothing you have that your doctor has not already seen hundreds of times. Your doctor will never make fun of you or your physical appearance. If he or she does, you need a new doctor with more compassion and professionalism. You need to have that same level of trust with your therapist as well.
Connecting with your Therapist
If you’ve been in therapy for any amount of time, you should already be comfortable with your therapist. However, if you’ve never cared for your therapist or outright disliked your therapist but your parents wouldn’t let you switch, the time to switch is now. Get some recommendations from your family physician, do online research, read patient reviews – do whatever you can to find someone who fits your personality and is a specialist in your condition.
If you decide to switch, be prepared to start over from scratch. While HIPPA laws give you the right to all of your medical records, if you are leaving a therapist and he or she is professionally jealous (not very likely), it may take extra time to get your records transferred to a new therapist. The new therapist will have to review your medical history, the notes from your therapy sessions, and the conclusions your prior therapist may have drawn regarding your condition. All of this information is crucial to helping you to manage your mental health.
Once you are ready to begin with your new therapist or to talk with your current therapist, be prepared to discuss how your new lifestyle affects your condition. Are you working more hours? Are work or college responsibilities giving you extra stress? Are you homesick? Have you made new friends? Are you missing your old life in high school? There are lots to discuss when you make the transition from a high school kid to a college student or working adult. Part of your responsibility, if it wasn’t already, is managing your medications appropriately.
Managing your Medications
After you move out on your own, whether to an apartment, frat or sorority house, or a dorm, you will be totally responsible for managing your meds. You need to take them as prescribed and make sure you never run out. Most chain pharmacies have smartphone apps that remind you when you need a refill, tell you when it’s ready for pick-up, and remind you if you forget to pick it up. Your medications help you manage your mental health.
If you take any medications that are considered controlled substances, you will need to keep them under lock and key if you live with roommates or housemates. Should someone steal your meds and then sell them and get caught, you could be on the hook legally. Controlled substances include Xanax, Benzodiazepines, Valium, and Ativan. They are all sister drugs in the same family, but all require a prescription to possess.
It is critical for your well-being that you follow the prescription instructions precisely. Underdosing could lead to an episode, depending on your condition, and overdoses can be lethal. You also need to know which of your medications may be contraindicated to other medications you are taking or if you drink alcohol, smoke, or do street drugs.
With that being said, do not drink, smoke, or do street drugs if you have a mental health condition. These substances will only make your symptoms worse, your condition harder to control, and could be a lethal combination. Self-care is another crucial part of managing your condition as an adult.
Managing your Self-Care
Self-care is essential for anyone but especially for someone with mental health issues. Of the many ways you can care for yourself, sleep is probably the one most often overlooked by teens. When you are in your teens, you feel invincible, but you are far from it. You are susceptible to illness and communicable diseases just as much as anyone else. If you don’t get the appropriate amount of sleep every day, your immune system will weaken, and your exhaustion could lead to a downswing of your mental health.
You should also make every effort to eat regularly and make healthy eating choices – not just to avoid the “Freshman 15” but to keep your body running well.
Now, we all know it’s great when you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, and not have to worry about eating the broccoli or Brussel’s sprouts your mom made for dinner. But, there is such a thing as too much pizza, too many Ramen noodles, too much soda, and too many sweets. This kind of eating can lead to dehydration (because of the overwhelming amount of salt in these types of foods) or a general feeling of fatigue because your blood sugar is constantly going to extreme highs and then extreme lows. When you feel tired and lousy, you could have an episode.
Ensure that you get the proper amount of exercise as well. When in high school, you can walk at least 2-3 miles a day from class to class, and you may be a member of a sports team that practices 5-6 days per week. Once you are out of high school, your physical activity will decline – unless you go to college on an athletic scholarship. Assuming you are not an athlete, make time for exercise for your overall health and stress reduction.
Oftentimes, if you are triggered into an episode, you will stop eating, bathing, working, or even talking to anyone. It’s important to have a support system in place in case something like this happens.
Have good friends, siblings, parents, cousins, grandparents, and other people close to you call you or check on you on a regular basis. Make certain that your support team all have keys to your home or apartment or some way to check on you if they can’t get in touch with you. Count on your roommates or housemates to be on the lookout and call for help if they can’t help you.
Knowing the Signs
So, what are the signs for your particular mental health condition? These will vary based on the condition as well as how well you and your doctors manage your mental health. The general warning signs for each diagnosis could include the following:
Bipolar Disorder – extreme mood swings, mania, depression, overeating, undereating, sleeping too much, not sleeping at all
Depression – consistently low mood, shopping sprees, binge eating, sleeping too much, loss of interest in everything
Anxiety – consistently tense, paranoid, not wanting to leave the house, overeating or undereating, constant state of worry or panic
Anorexia Nervosa – sleeping all the time, over exercising, constant worry about food or counting calories, obsession with looks
Bulimia Nervosa – sleep issues, binge eating, obsession with food, excessive trips to the bathroom, not happy with appearance
Panic Disorder – inability to leave the house (or even an inability to leave the bedroom), sweating, nausea, paranoia, difficulty breathing, fainting, intense fear
PTSD – jumping at the slightest noise, paranoia, fear, intense interest in personal protection (either weapons or self-defense classes), fear of leaving the house, belief of being watched or followed
No matter your condition, make sure your support team is well-educated on the signs and symptoms that indicate a condition is being triggered. Your support team is there to help you manage your mental health.
As an adult, you will have to take full responsibility for your health. You must learn how to manage your mental health without your parents doing everything for you. You need to educate yourself, get to know your doctor, make sure you have the best therapist for you, manage your meds, and know your signs and symptoms.
This is one of the most difficult parts of being a teen with mental health issues. It takes a lot to manage your mental health, and you are just beginning to understand how all the pieces of treatment will integrate into your life. It will be an adjustment, but you will be much happier and a much more functional individual when you succeed in learning to manage your mental health.
If you’re struggling with managing your mental health following your high school graduation, it’s not too late to get help. Reach out to a facility like Beachside Teen Treatment Center in order to find out more about how our facility can help you get your life back on track!