Teen Support Programs Expanding To Address Growing Needs
‘I Didn’t Think I Was Good Enough’
Emily May, a 17-year-old from Round Hill, credits Grafton’s therapy program for helping her overcome her depression and anxiety. Many in Loudoun County’s mental health community say more help is needed for teens like Emily.
Just six months ago Emily May was a different person, she would tell you.
Once a happy, confident teenager, she became overwhelmed with feelings of anxiousness and depression; so much so she began to wonder if life was worth living.
“It got to the point where I was so hopeless, and I didn’t see any reason to live,” said Emily, who lives in Round Hill. “I didn’t think I was good enough.”
Her mother took her to a counselor in Purcellville, who later referred Emily to an Intensive Outpatient Program for teens at Grafton Integrated Health Network’s Leesburg campus. Through group and one-on-one therapy, the after-school program helps teens manage, and overcome, their challenges brought on by a psychiatric condition.
Emily graduated from the IOP program in April and, as her mother Teresa May says, is back to the joyful 17-year-old she remembers. “It’s given her this boost of confidence.”
Emily’s is one success story, but area educators and those in Loudoun County’s mental health community say there are many young people who are facing the same challenges, but the growth of services to guide them through them have not kept up with the county’s population.
“When it comes to emotional behavior disorders for teens, we really don’t have very many options in Loudoun County,” John J. Lody, director of Loudoun County Public Schools’ Diagnostic and Prevention Services, said.
When students’ emotional or psychological challenges are beyond the help the school system can provide, Lody often refers them to therapists in private practices. “But by the time kids come home from school, most private practitioners are closing up shop at that point,” he said.
The Intensive Outpatient Program, like the one offered at Grafton, is a good fit for Loudoun teens because it provides after-school outpatient support. “It’s a step down from a day placement,” Lody said. “So students can stay in their settings, [at school and at home].”
Lody presented some of these same points to leaders of Dominion Hospital when they met with him several months ago to ask what mental health services Loudoun County lacked. As they heard more and more about the need for help geared toward teens, the hospital leaders decided to launch a program called Intensive Outpatient Program of Ashburn.
“We were receiving feedback from our patients, physicians and school contacts that this service was needed in Loudoun County,” Cynthia Meyer, Dominion Hospital Interim CEO, said. “The benefit of providing more outpatient and preventative care services coupled with the needs of Loudoun County made the decision to develop our intensive outpatient program in Ashburn an easy one.”
The IOP, which is slated to begin this fall, will serve 13- to- 17-year- olds—as well as 18-year-olds who are still in high school—who battle depression, anxiety, mood disorders, self-injury and substance abuse. Similar to Grafton’s IOP, most of the treatment will be done in group sessions, and patients will have a weekly one-on-one session with a clinician. Dominion Hospital is still determining the program’s fees, but most insurance providers will cover the cost, according to the hospital’s director of marketing and communications.
Since 2010, Grafton has been the only health care provider to offer IOP for teens. It is designed to offer preventative therapy, so young people can get help before their challenges progress to the point that they need a 24-hour residential program. They can continue to go to school, live with their families and interact with their friends, and most find they make a new group of friends through the IOP.
“It helped me realize that I’m not alone,” 18-year-old Meghan Keys, who graduated from Grafton’s IOP in April, said. “People you know might be going through the same things, they just might not show it.”
Many students who graduate from the program—including Meghan and Emily—continue to attend the sessions as peer mentors.
“Some are so anxious when they first come they can’t get out of the car, but by the end of it, most don’t want to leave,” Jamie E. Bosserman, an IOP therapist at Grafton, said. “Seeing someone else who has been successful gives these kids hope.”
The program cost $300 per three-hour session, but most health insurance providers cover the cost, according to Grafton’s Director of Communications Shweta Adyanthaya.
Grafton merged with Graydon Manor Outpatient Services in 2010, and has since provided an array of services for young children to adults at its tucked-away campus on Childrens Center Road on Leesburg’s western boundary. The nonprofit organization also recently launched a new program called Applied Behavior Analysis, which helps children as young as 2 years old improve communication skills, motor control and their day-to-day living activities.
Grafton’s IOP for teens has room for eight teens at a time, but Adyanthaya said the organization’s goal is to expand the program and possibly branch out to provide an IOP specifically for teens who struggle with substance abuse.
The organization is flexible, she said, and wants to expand other areas of its services to meet the county’s growing needs.
“We’re open, really, to what the community needs,” not just help for children, but individual adults and families,” Adyanthaya said. “I’ve had parents say, when they get up to our Leesburg campus, that this is one of the hidden gems in our communities. We want people to know we’re here and that help is only a phone call away.”
There are other local outpatient programs designed to help teens who have mental health challenges, but each offer a different setup and target different challenges. The National Alliance On Mental Illness offers a Family-to-Family Education Program, geared toward parents of individuals struggling with mental illness. Inova Health System and others provide programs in Loudoun that focus on substance abuse, and Inova Kellar Center offers an IOP for teens just over the county line in Fairfax County.
Loudoun Friends of Mental Health Vice President Judy Hines, whose son struggled with mental illness as a young man, has been a vocal advocate for more local programs to help teens through some of their most difficult years.
And with more programs, she said, the more young people will be willing to step forward and accept help. “The stigma attached to ‘I’m going to a psychologist and a program’ is something we need to get rid of. It’s kind of like breast cancer. Decades ago those are two words you would never use together. But now you’re finally hearing the word recovery used for mental illness. We’re making progress.”