Studies and reports are being released regularly that confirm what many people believed was already happening during the COVID-19 pandemic. The reports confirm that mental illness, , and other issues of mental health and self-medication rose among all populations. Additionally, there was a significant rise in mental health disorders co-occurring with or other mental health issues. This was especially true among adolescent populations.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Youth and young adults experienced a unique set of challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic – isolation from peers, adapting to virtual learning, and changes to sleep habits and other routines.” Because of this, NAMI states, “1 in 6 experienced a major depressive episode (MDE), three million had serious thoughts of suicide, [and there was a] 31% increase in mental health-related emergency department visits.” These are staggering statistics and only bolster the urgent need to get kids the mental health care that they need.

One of the big issues in the mental health field is the potential for co-occurring mental health disorders. This affects all populations and is particularly true in adolescent populations. Some of the primary and most common co-occurring mental health disorders among teens are substance use disorders (SUDs) existing in tandem with other mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. The good news is that co-occurring mental health disorders can be treated. However, co-occurring mental health disorders need to be treated with equal focus and concurrently.

What Exactly Are Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders?

The definition of a co-occurring disorder is the existence of two mental health disorders present in one individual simultaneously. This most commonly includes SUD alongside another mental health disorder. However, it can also include co-occurring mental health disorders that do not involve life-controlling issues. Examples of this could be anxiety and depression co-occurring with schizophrenia. Another example is bipolar II disorder co-occurring with an anxiety disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Co-occurring mental health disorders can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms can overlap. In many situations, one disorder can be so dominant that the other disorder is hard to detect. Even though it isn’t easy, co-occurring mental health disorders must be detected and diagnosed because not addressing both can worsen long-term outcomes.

According to the Journal of Medical Internet Research, “Studies on comorbidity have found strong relationships between comorbidity and higher rates of suicide, suicidal ideation, greater symptom severity, and poorer quality of life and social support. Patients diagnosed with multiple disorders also tend to have a poorer prognosis, [and] are less responsive to intervention…” This heightened risk of danger makes it all the more important to treat co-occurring mental health disorders thoroughly and concurrently.

The Importance of Treating Comorbidities in Tandem

If practitioners fail to treat both disorders at the same time, the potential for a successful recovery decreases. This is because co-occurring disorders are often interwoven to the point of unbreakable symbiosis. What this means is that if one disorder remains untreated, this can cause the treated disorder to resurface.

If co-occurring disorders receive the same level of treatment focus in unison, the chances for a successful recovery improve greatly. For those struggling with the comorbidities of SUD and another mental health disorder, tandem treatment decreases the chances of relapse significantly.

Treatment options for co-occurring disorders do not look much different than treatments for single mental health issues. This is especially true when an individualized recovery plan is created.

Treatment Options for Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

Creating a customized treatment plan for individuals struggling with co-occurring mental health disorders is key. When an individualized assessment takes place, practitioners can better create a plan that addresses all potential comorbidities. There are three primary modality categories of treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders. These include emotional modalities, the behavioral modalities, and the holistic modalities.

For emotional recovery, individual and group therapy can be highly beneficial. These therapies can address the underlying issues associated with co-occurring mental health disorders. Behavioral treatments can include neuroscientific options like neurofeedback. This can help an individual identify the “triggers” that evoke negative behaviors. They can then begin to modify and mitigate them. Lastly, holistic practices like yoga, breathwork, meditation, and prayer can be great supplementary recovery options. These valuable modalities support other evidence-based treatments in achieving total healing and recovery.

NAMI also reported that “1 in 5 young people report that the pandemic had a significant negative impact on their mental health.” Taking into account the current adolescent population in the U.S., that’s over 14.6 million young adults. Many of these individuals struggle with the co-occurring issue of mental health. While the COVID-19 pandemic is certainly not the only reason for adolescent struggles with mental health, it has exacerbated an already tenuous situation. The question now is: What are we going to do about it?

Co-occurring disorders are not uncommon in the mental health and self-medicating realm. More and more people are being diagnosed with comorbidities. This is especially true for those individuals who struggle with drinking and/or substance use disorder. Just as important as the diagnosis of comorbidities can be creating a recovery plan that treats them both at once. When co-occurring disorders are not treated in tandem, the risk increases for one disorder to trigger a resurgence of the other. The good news is that there are many treatment options that are used specifically to treat comorbidities. For more information on comorbidities of mental health and self-medicating, please reach out to Clearview Girls Academy today at (888) 796-5484.