Some teens consider themselves anti-social or “loners” and seem to have little to no interest in social interaction. Many accept this as normal, but increasingly, apathy is a growing concern among teens who are diagnosed with mood disorders or other mental health disorders, have suicidal ideation or attempts, or even attempt to harm others. How can you, as a mental healthcare provider, address apathy? Are there steps you can take to create interest in social skills for teens who display such apathy?
Assessing Risks in Clients Displaying Apathy
When a client displays significant apathy toward any social interaction, assessing if the apathy is related to other risks is important. Is the apathy symptomatic of depression or even dysthymia? Are there any indications that the client has any suicidal ideation, a history of suicide attempts, or could be at risk of attempting suicide? Is the client at risk of harming others?
Establishing the cause of apathy will help determine how severe it is and how to address it. Teens exhibit apathy for many reasons, including:
- Defense mechanism
- Lack of motivation
- Substance use
Treating substance use disorders (SUD) and depression will help alleviate some of the apathy, but therapy will still be needed to address the more deeply rooted issues. Helping teens analyze the source of their apathy will help build an emotional ladder for them to climb out of it.
Helping Teens With Apathy Rebuild Self-Esteem
A lack of self-esteem is a common factor among teens who feel apathetic. A lack of belief in self puts the negative thought processes into overdrive in their head, and their belief that they are not worthy or do not matter to anyone else becomes firmly rooted in their minds.
Finding the seed of belief in self and nurturing it, giving them something to care about, and helping them understand that they do matter to themselves and others will help them slowly develop self-esteem. This should help them to begin to see the world differently, to have a personal investment in their own life, and want to have some investment in other people’s lives as well.
Developing Emotional Skills in Adolescents
Some teens are lonely and become apathetic because they simply lack the emotional skills to foster healthy relationships with others. They may come from a situation where they did not have healthy emotional skills modeled for them in the home. Working with them to address this deficit and help them build healthy emotional skills can help them in multiple ways. First, to be able to process their emotions better, and second, to be able to utilize their emotions in healthy ways to develop trusting relationships with friends and family members.
Focusing on a Need for Acceptance and Love
Apathy can often be a self-defense mechanism that is a disguise for an unfulfilled need for acceptance and love. While a teen may claim that acceptance does not matter to them, and they may have even convinced themselves this is true, the basic human need for love and acceptance is often at the center of the walls of apathy built up around their hearts.
Helping them to dig deep and find their truth, that they really do want and need to be loved and accepted, can help them to discover many layers of pain and trauma that have helped to create those walls of apathy over the years. Allowing them to process all that and heal will help them realize and access the deep-seated need for acceptance and love. Offering them continued support will help them find success in fulfilling their needs.
Looking at Social Skills Through the Lens of Acceptance and Love
Replacing apathy with social skills is the ultimate 180 degree turn in therapy. However, when your client views learning social skills through the lens of their need for love and acceptance, they will likely be more motivated to learn and develop new skills that are necessary to become socially adept. Helping them to discover how to make acquaintances and build strong relationships among friends, family, classmates, peers, and others is a priceless skill on their path to love and acceptance of one another.
Role-playing scenarios can help them learn how to interact with their peers appropriately. As they practice more, they will build confidence and become more invested in making connections with others. Help them to understand that we all make social missteps at times and that these missteps are not a reason to give up. As they continue to work hard, they can learn social skills to replace their overall apathy.
Working with teens who display serious apathy can be difficult, especially when the apathy is significantly interfering with their social life. After assessing serious risks, take care to utilize activities that will benefit them and help them to restore their self-esteem. As they learn to rebuild their self-esteem and develop stronger emotional and coping skills, they can learn to focus on a need for acceptance and love, a great lens for someone to view social skills through. Sustain Recovery is an extended residential treatment facility for adolescents with addiction and other mental health situations. We work with clients to help them gradually transition back home and connect them with support meetings in their own community to help ensure a lasting recovery. Call Sustain today at (949) 407-9052 to find out if our program is the right fit for your adolescent clients.