Mental Imagery Against Teenage Negativity 

Aug 11, 2023 | Uncategorized

“Every indicator of mental health and psychological well-being has become more negative among teens and young adults since 2012,” author and psychology professor Jean Twenge wrote in her new book Generations. “The trends are stunning in their consistency, breadth, and size. Most involve what psychologists call internalizing disorders, such as depression and anxiety.”

“Teenagers have been by far the fastest-growing problem demographic when it comes to mental health,” wrote Bence Nanay Ph.D. on Psychology Today in June. 

“Every day brings more evidence that our nation’s youth are facing a mental health crisis: rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among young people are on the rise, and so are adolescent deaths from drug poisoning,” wrote Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and the Director of National Drug Control Policy Rahul Gupta in a recent op-ed on USA Today

Despite the crisis, “almost none of the people ages 12–17 who had both a mental health condition and a substance use disorder received care for both conditions. Stigma against these conditions, barriers to care, and families not knowing where to turn for help all played a role,” wrote Drs. Gupta and Murthy. 

“A relatively new development in various branches of psychiatry is to manipulate the mental imagery of patients in order to improve their condition, by means of techniques such as imaginal exposure, systematic desensitization, and imagery rescripting,” wrote Nanay. “There are reports of the success of this methodology in the case of mental disorders ranging from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia to post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression.”

The main symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder is the recurring and involuntary negative mental imagery of the traumatic event. Another example is depression, where one of the most important indications of the level of depression is the lack of future positive mental imagery. And mental imagery has also been understood to be a central component of eating disorders as well as many forms of addiction.

Now, a new study examined how teenagers can use mental imagery to overcome negative thoughts. It examined how teenagers (between the age of 13 and 17) can use various methods as a means to distract from negative thoughts. Negative thoughts (of social exclusion, as a result of a rigged online game setup) were induced in these teenagers and different methods of distracting from these negative thoughts were compared. By far the most efficient was mental imagery of an unrelated phenomenon.

These results confirmed another body of research on the relationship between mental imagery and cravings or desires. “Mental imagery of neutral scenes, for example, a rose garden, reduces desire for a cigarette in people who are trying to give up smoking,” explained  Nanay in the Psychology Today article. “Mental imagery of unrelated odors has the same effect. Desire for eating chocolate can also be reduced by the mental imagery of neutral scenes. So mental imagery can draw your attention away from your various desires.” 

The new study now shows great potential for the treatment of negative thoughts in teenagers. “The results of this experiment are of great importance not only in psychiatric practice but also in regulating one’s emotions on a daily or even hourly basis,” wrote Nanay. “And this, given the shocking scarcity of psychiatric resources for teenagers all over the world, is especially important.”

Recovery at Avanti Behavioral Health 

There is a new treatment option for teenagers at risk in the Denver area. Avanti Behavioral Health recently launched an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for clients between the ages of 13 and 18 in Greenwood Village, Colorado.  

Our team of treatment professionals has built the highest quality option for teen therapy in the state of Colorado, providing comprehensive, holistic, family-centered, and trauma-informed care for your teen. A thorough clinical assessment is a crucial step in the treatment process at Avanti. It is a free evaluation to identify any misdiagnosed or undiagnosed conditions that may be affecting the well-being of your child. 

Through evidence-based assessment tools and clinical interviews, our experienced clinicians gather valuable information about an adolescent’s emotional, behavioral, and psychological functioning. This process helps us uncover underlying mental health conditions—such as anxiety and depression— substance use concerns, or other co-occurring disorders that may be contributing to their challenges.

The Avanti team believes that recovery from a substance use disorder is a process that should involve the entire immediate family. We have developed an effective and highly involved method of family counseling. For more information about our IOP and family programming call us at (720) 753-4030. 

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