Depression Treatment at RTC Program

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to depression as they have yet to figure out how to cope with everyday stressors in a sustainable way. When every bad grade, every argument with parents, every perceived rejection by peers feels amplified, it is natural for teens to become overwhelmed. It is important for teens with depression to recognize that depression isn’t a personality trait and that there are depression treatment options available.

In comparison to inpatient treatment, residential treatment centers encourage teens with depression to develop healthier habits and strong relationships over time, which leads to lasting changes. RTC programs, like Elevations, take a holistic perspective to depression treatment that focus on empowering teens to own their struggles and their identity rather than on why they feel they became depressed in the first place.

The guide is meant to be comprehensive, but as such, not every section will be applicable to everyone. Instead, we invite you to click on the links in the table of contents to jump to the sections that most interest you.

Why choose a residential treatment center for depression?

It can hard for teens who struggle with depression notice changes in their day-to-day life when they are stuck in the same environment. For some teens, leaving their home and school environment to go to a residential treatment center gives them permission to focus on themselves and their healing. The adjustment can be difficult, but within the first few days, they learn that they are not alone and are surrounded by other people who have walked in their shoes and have made significant progress. 

This mentorship model is particular powerful for teens with depression who have felt isolated from their peers and have struggled to open up to others, as they worry “no one understands.” Social support is considered one of the strongest buffers against future depressive episodes.

Major Depressive Disorder refers to recurrent episodes of depression, compared to an adjustment disorder, where feelings of depression may subside once external conflict has been resolved. This means that it is essential for teens who struggle with depression to develop healthy coping mechanisms to manage symptoms of depression as they may arise in the future. The earlier they learn how to deal with symptoms of depression, the more resilient they will be the next time they experience a depressive episode. 

What are some signs that my teen is depressed?

Depression is more than just feeling sad. While sadness is a normal reaction to many life events, depression is more of a cloud that someone carries with them that isn’t necessarily a proportionate response to what is going on around them. If your teen is isolating a lot because they feel depressed, it may be hard to pick up on changes in their mood and behavior. As they are more withdrawn, they may be less likely to feel comfortable opening up about how they feel if they are afraid of being judged. For this reason, it is important to understand what depression looks like and that there isn’t one single definition.

Depression is a vague umbrella term that is included in the definition of multiple mood disorders and exists on a continuum from more transient depressed mood states to more severe, chronic forms. Depression might look like Major Depressive Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, the depressive phase of Bipolar Disorder, or Dysthymia, a persistent mild form of depression that lasts several years. The most consistent indicator of depression is a persistently depressed mood. Other symptoms include: 

  • Sadness and hopelessness about the future
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Irritability or impulsivity
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive
  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Social withdrawal
  • Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness

What are some examples of therapeutic approaches that Elevations therapists may use with students who have depression? 

Individual talk therapy is one of the most common treatment options recommended for depression, although it is usually more effective when integrated with other approaches rather than just unstructured check-ins. Therapists at Elevations RTC are trained in a variety of evidence-based modalities that help teens manage symptoms of depression, including:

    • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Our clinical programming is based around the modules of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, known as DBT. The core modules of emotion regulation and distress tolerance are particularly effective in helping teens with depression identify triggers and alternative ways to manage stress.
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that treats problems and boosts happiness by modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. CBT focuses on challenging one’s negative worldview rather than exploring why it developed in order to help teens internalize more positive beliefs.
    • Motivational interviewing. This technique encourages teens to take the lead in exploring their goals by asking open-ended questions designed to help teens arrive at their own insight about why they do the things they do. From there, it guides them in coming up with smaller goals that will help them do things differently but are still aligned with their values.

How does recreation therapy help teens diagnosed with depression?

Many teens who struggle with depression experience a loss of interest in things they used to enjoy doing. This can be a Catch-22 as they might recognize these hobbies have the potential to make them feel a little bit better, but their brain struggles to process increases in serotonin from these activities. If they notice that they are disengaged and struggle to experience pleasure when participating in these activities, they are more likely to give up altogether. This contributes to a hopeless worldview, where “nothing helps” and “they have nothing to look forward to.”

However, when teens with depression begin to benefit from other types of therapies, they may rediscover joy in recreation activities, both rekindling old passions and finding new hobbies that they enjoy. For some teenagers with depression, they have been so disconnected from their bodies that diving headfirst into recreation activities helps improve their mind-body connection. Over time, they may realize that processing their experiences during rec outings is similar to sharing in group therapy without knowing that recreation activities are supposed to be therapeutic! 

Recreation activities also help break up the weekly schedule by offering a “normalized” weekend schedule. When students transition home, they may continue to integrate healthy social activities, like hiking, biking, or water sports, into their weekend plans over choosing unhealthy activities, like using substances. Recreation therapy teaches teens with depression that it is possible to have fun in constructive ways and to take healthy risks that challenge themselves but don’t put them in danger.

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What aspects of the therapeutic milieu at Elevations can help students who struggle with depression? 

Often, teenagers continue to struggle with depression because of an unmet need for connectivity and purpose.  As part of their Community, every student has a role. Each and every community role contributes to the overall functioning of the team and helps build strong, dependable relationships among students.

Whether our students are socially disconnected or choosing the wrong relationships, Elevations RTC provides an opportunity to develop healthy relationships with peers and authority figures, like staff members. The interdependence of our community helps students practice and refine their ability to create lasting connections. Our program is unique among residential treatment centers for teens because of our community atmosphere. 

Elevations RTC is unique compared to other residential treatment centers, as we work with teenagers of all genders, which helps create a more normalized “real-world” environment.