Animal Assisted Therapy for Bipolar-afflicted Teens
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), rates of bipolar symptoms - which were previously thought to only affect those 18 or older as soon as one decade ago - are now comparable to that of adults for the first time in the disorder's recorded history. Since the NIMH's published research, which was conducted almost a decade ago, teenage bipolar symptoms have only gotten worse, say the experts.
This meteoric rise of American bipolar teens is problematic when considering the severe implications of what a mistreated, or entirely untreated, bipolar diagnoses, may yield to the untold numbers of afflicted teens in America.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder, which is also referred to as manic-depressive illness or manic depression, is a complex and serious brain illness. Teens who suffer from bipolar symptoms experience unusual and sometimes, extreme mood changes.
It is normal for a manic depressive teen to feel manically happy, or uncharacteristically energized for an adolescent their age, often with unpredictable regularity. This is what psychiatric and behavioral experts refer to as a manic episode.
However, a bipolar-afflicted teen is as likely to suffer from an opposite, albeit, equally intense, burst of emotions known as a depressive episode, which involves the teenage boy or girl suffering from severe depressive symptoms.
Due to the exponentially complicated and frustrating nature of bipolar disorder, teens who are afflicted by the illness suffer immense difficulties in their attempt to live a normal, healthy lifestyle; labored and lonely attempts which all-too-often, sadly go in vain. Of course, this is especially true for teens who are undiagnosed or undertreated for their severe neurological condition.
The Dangers of Bipolar Disorder
What's worse, bipolar-afflicted teens are more likely to commit self-harm, abuse harmful substances, or resort to other self-destructive behaviors in an attempt to ‘escape’ their illness, and by extension, the harsh reality in which they live.
Teens who suffer from bipolar disorder (up to 4% of all American teenagers) require critical therapies to combat their widely misunderstood and underappreciated mental illness. And while therapeutic resources are plentiful and virtually available, in one form or another, to anyone who so chooses to seek out affordable remedies, it should be noted that not all treatments for bipolar are created equal. In a word, a selective number of bipolar treatment methods are far more effective than others.
Mental Health Clinicians Turn to Animal Assisted Therapy In Lieu of Dangerous Meds
Among the most researched and clinically proven, albeit, widely unheard of holistic treatments, is called Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). AAT, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is a therapy that consists of providing mentally ill teens with an animal to care for. This clinically-provided responsibility includes grooming, teaching obedience commands, and walking (or other animal exercises) for 45 minutes a day, several times a week (if not every day).
Mental health clinicians, whose job it is to treat mental illness at their local hospitals, are starting to turn to new and useful ways in which they clinically treat their patients. Not surprisingly, one of their most popularly used treatments is none other than Animal Assisted Therapy.
In a fantastic and unprecedented turn of events, today's psychiatric professionals - who, like doctors, are often monetarily incentivized to overprescribe medications - are beginning to prescribe dogs, rabbits, cats and even horses in lieu of traditional prescriptions that often includes bulk dosages of symptom-laden, and sometimes even dangerous, bipolar medications.
Why Is AAT Effective in Treating Bipolar Disorder and Other Severe Mental Illnesses?
Regarding the impact of AAT in treating bipolar disorder, new research has yielded massively positive results. According to recent studies, AAT is especially useful in treating severely mentally ill teens by solely allowing them to bond with domesticated animals.
The same research states that, by providing bipolar-afflicted teens with a pet to care for, they are further able to reconnect with their present. This pro-social reconnection, in turn, encourages teens to open up about their illness - which, as any parent of a bipolar-diagnosed teenager can assure you, is often no easy feat.
Regarding its efficiency in successfully treating severe, teenage mental illness, it is AAT’s applicability that is perhaps most impressive. Occupational therapists claim that the level of connection that is learned and developed by a manic depressive teen bonding their prescribed animal becomes a transferable skill that can be used to connect with other people.
In other words, the more the teen can learn how to connect with their prescribed animal, the more easily it will be for them to apply the same bond with human beings. Through their increasing ability to connect and bond with others, teens engaged in AAT become all the more open to opening up about their inner pain and complicated symptoms.
Consequently, it is Animal Assisted Therapy which grants manically depressed teens the confidence to confide in others, including mental health professionals, peer groups, and family members.
With mental health issues impacting our country on a near epidemic scale, the results of the AAT study are more than encouraging. With treatment methods as successful at reaching emotionally-guarded, mentally ill teenagers as AAT has of recent, it seemingly becomes all the more evident that we are expanding our cultural and clinical understanding of once wholly misunderstood, severe illnesses, not least of which, manic depression.