Our Psychologist Answers Questions About Teens and Mental Health

The news is overwhelming, and we worry about how our young people are coping. Children and teens may be impacted more strongly by today’s stressors. Concerns increase for young people with existing mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. The following is a question-and-answer discussion with Dr. Jason Soriano, psychologist at Rosecrance partner Aspen Counseling and Consulting, LLC, about teens and mental health, how to guide crucial conversations, and how Rosecrance can help.


Tell us a little about your background and how you feel about working in this community?

As a Rockford native, I’ve taken a great deal of pride in the community and felt the area has always had incredible potential for improvement and growth. As a local journalist, I loved getting to understand the depth and richness of the people in the area, and when I worked at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson (RGW) campus, I found my passion for helping youth and their families struggling with addiction. Throughout my life I’ve always wanted to give back to the community, and I feel honored to return to Aspen to work within a multidisciplinary team focused enriching the lives and mental health of those we serve.

What treatment and services are currently available to teens?

Teenagers are an especially vulnerable population, with multiple physical and emotional changes possibly worsening pre-existing mental health issues. I’m especially proud to be working in an organization that promotes mental health through multiple avenues, while also being linked with the RGW campus. Through Aspen, multiple psychological treatment avenues exist, such as counseling, psychological testing, psychiatric medications and even advanced treatments such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Our collaborative approach with RGW means we can treat mental health issues while also addressing serious substance abuse problems together.

What would you say are the short-term and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on teens?

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on teenagers will be felt long into the future. Within the short-term, many teenagers have lost the consistent structures in their lives which helped keep them grounded and connected (i.e. school, sports, after-school activities). In the long-term, families are finding the isolation and forced confinement has worsened mental health issues, increased family conflicts, and taken away the sense of purpose many teenagers needed to thrive and grow.

Can you describe a recent experience you’ve had with a teen? What was their experience like?

For many of my teenagers, this time period is both about acknowledging a sense of loss and finding new ways to find purpose and coping within their lives. For one, graduating from high school and participating in the senior school play was something she had looked forward to all year. Her distress at having these events taken from her by the pandemic took away much of her personal purpose and impacted her sense of self. Within therapy we have had to recognize her sense of grief and loss while also trying to “rediscover” a new sense of purpose and accomplishment, which she has been finding through playing with her younger siblings and envisioning goals for when the pandemic has passed.

Please describe psychological testing. When does a teen need psych testing? When does a parent know their child needs it?

Oftentimes, testing is critical for teenagers when parents and other professionals need clarification on a diagnosis or a problem that may be “deeper” than the surface symptoms would indicate. For instance, a teenager showing signs of distraction and inattention could easily be mis-diagnosed with ADHD and over-medicated, when his or her symptoms could also be related to depression, anxiety, or a host of other issues. Psychological testing can provide an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan based on validated, evidence-based measures.

Please describe the types of issues you treat (anxiety, depression, etc.). Which issues can be treated in an outpatient setting and which require more intensive care?

Within my practice, I diagnose and treat a multitude of different mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and familial problems. However, issues involving severe behavioral disorders, substance abuse issues, or active psychosis are better suited for more intensive levels of care.

How does treatment work? When someone meets you, what will you talk about?

Establishing a sense of trust, understanding and a clear direction for therapy is a critical part of my work with my clients. With that goal in mind, I usually spend at least the first session or two getting to know my client, their background and some of the issues which are most concerning to them. Usually, with a few sessions, the client and I will work together to plan on how I can best help them improve their lives. From there, I work to provide my clients with support, understanding and a sense that we are a part of a collaborative team working towards their better selves.

How does Aspen now offer integrated and holistic services?

Aspen offers a wide range of different treatments to fit almost any need within the community. Our diverse therapist team has an excellent collaborative approach, meaning we are more than happy to find the therapists within our organization who best match the needs of our clients and families. Additionally, with the availability of psychiatric providers and psychological testing, our patients can have access to medications or advanced psychological testing to supplement their treatment. Alongside these tools, the addition of TMS allows patients to explore alternative treatment options when therapy and medications are not enough. Our close partnership with Rosecrance also provides a unique opportunity to explore inpatient and outpatient services when appropriate.

What would you say to someone who feels they have an issue they need to address but they don’t know where to start?

Oftentimes my clients will tell me they are unhappy with their lives or their current situations but are unsure how to begin making improvements. Within therapy, I always try to emphasize to my clients the importance of being vulnerable and opening up to me and other providers. The more clients can express how they feel or what they want to change, the easier it is for myself and other providers to help find a pathway towards improvement and happiness. Just asking for help and being able to be open and vulnerable is a brave, critical first step towards a better life.

What tips do you have for parents to have crucial conversations with their teens about mental health? What are some signs to be concerned about that would require them to reach out to a professional?

I believe every parent needs to be “checking in” with their teenager about their mental health. Showing teenagers it’s OK to share emotions or talk about problems, and understanding sometimes there’s no “fixing” problems on their own is a critical message I wished more parents conveyed to their children. However, no matter how loving, caring or open we are as families, teenagers will often hide how they are feeling or believe no one can help them. Looking for warning signs such as withdrawal from family activities, isolating away from friends, spending excessive time on social media or in their rooms, declining grades or job performance, and wearing long-pants or long-sleeves in warm weather (to hide self-harming) are some of the key warning signs parents should watch for. If any of these are detected, parents should consider reaching out to a professional.

If you have questions for Dr. Soriano or would like to make an appointment with him, please email him at jsoriano@rosecrance.org.