It can be a challenge to get teenagers to open up to adults about their problems, particularly when talking about mental health and addiction.
That’s a familiar challenge for Remedy Live, a Fort Wayne nonprofit that helps teens and young adults deal with addiction, bullying, mental health, eating disorders and more.
"I think that this generation (of teenagers) is extremely mistrusting to any institutions. They don’t believe the schools support them, they don’t believe the church supports them. They don’t believe that even the institutional health system supports them," said Clinton Faupel, executive director of Remedy Live. "I think they feel like they’re not a significant individual as a person."
Faupel said Remedy Live’s online chat sessions focus on the question, "How are you?"
Remedy Live is a 24/7 crisis chat line. Students can call anonymously to discuss any problems. Although it’s not a counseling or therapy organization, Faupel said Remedy Live volunteers and staff use active listening skills and help connect teens with available resources. Remedy Live emphasizes that drug abuse or self-harm are not the answer to problems, Faupel said.
"We want to make sure that student knows that the next step is to talk to a trusted adult and show them that their life is worth more than that," Faupel said. "We tell them they’re not crazy for feeling this way and encourage them to take the next step."
Part of the problem is the selfish nature of adolescence, Faupel said. Teens often don’t believe there are others in the same or similar situations. Remedy Live tries to combat this through interactive assemblies at area schools. The programs typically last about an hour and integrate technology with audience participation, Faupel said. The questions are multiple choice and the results are shown in real time. The purpose, Faupel said, is to show students they’re not alone.
"When the data is coming into our software in real time, the statistic that shows up on the screen provides courage to the student who thought they were the only one who feels this way," Faupel said. "They begin to realize that they’re not the only one in the room."
Faupel, who has been working with young people on these issues since 1989, said he’s seen a severe increase over the past 10 years in addiction among teens. The same goes for self-harm and depression, Faupel said. Advances in technology and social media, he said, have made it more difficult for teens to verbalize their needs.
"They tend to rely on social media as a place of significance and come to rely on escapism methods – everything from heroin to spending 48 hours using a virtual reality video game. There has been a real increase with students experimenting with ways to escape and cope with things."
Treating younger addicts is often different from treating adults addicted to a substance, said Rita Self Barile, a licensed mental health counselor at St. Joseph Behavioral Health. Barile works with the hospital network’s intensive outpatient groups. Much of the treatment Barile is involved in tries to provide young addicts with the skills to deal with their problems without turning to substances.
"Traditionally, we try to restore addicts back to previous coping skills, because they had them at one time," Barile said. "But with these young addicts, we’re finding that they never learned coping skills in the first place."
Barile said treatment programs at St. Joseph Behavioral Health focus on the traditional 12-step program, because of its proven success.
The 12-step program is similar to what Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous use. The first step requires participants admitting they are powerless over addiction.
The final step is for participants to help others who may be struggling with addiction. But younger addicts, she said, are often resistant to the 12-step program, viewing it as old fashioned.
Megan Oetting, Noble County associate director for the Northeastern Center, agreed that getting kids to open up is a challenge during treatment. Oetting said that most of the youth who come to the Northeastern Center are referred by outside parties like probation or the Department of Child Services and aren’t necessarily happy to be there.
Oetting said she builds trust by being open about her role and the process.
"I think if they know what’s expected of them and know what to expect from me it’s much easier," Oetting said.
The Northeastern Center’s program is also a 12-week program but is not modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, Oetting said. The Northeastern Center program focuses on thought processes, behavior, morals and decision-making. The facility pairs that with education about addiction and the consequences of drug abuse, Oetting said.
While adults and children both present different challenges, Oetting said the long-term effects of drug abuse on the generation coming of age aren’t yet known.
But there may be a small silver lining.
"I think the positive thing about kids and recovery in kids is that if they start using sooner, we can catch it sooner," Oetting said, noting that catching drug problems early gives kids a better chance at success down the road. "Kids are super resilient."