How Digital Health Can Support Suicide Prevention Among Adolescents

Involving parents in the mental health treatment of their kids can greatly improve health outcomes. But it’s not always easy for parents to get involved in a traditional brick-and-mortar setting, according to one mental health expert. That’s why digital health has the opportunity to support suicide prevention for younger populations.

“Getting to a brick-and-mortar multiple times a week [is hard]. Parents have to show up, leave work early, go and drive for half an hour, battle traffic, try and figure out the flexibility of finding a therapist who can actually meet with you at a time that works for you before you get home to make dinner for your three other kids. It’s really stressful to be involved in treatment in that type of way,” said Caroline Fenkel, chief clinical officer of Charlie Health, a virtual mental health company for teens and young adults. 

With digital health, the company’s clinicians can easily involve patients’ parents during virtual sessions, Fenkel said. She made these comments during a panel discussion last week at the Behavioral Health Tech conference in Phoenix. Charlie Health offers support groups, family therapy and individual therapy. It treats anxiety disorders, neurodivergence, depression, mood disorders and other conditions.

“When we went virtual during Covid, suddenly I was able to say, ‘Hey, Laura, is your mom around? Could she come into the room by any chance?’ … Suddenly, I’m now in a family session. It started as an individual session and I’ve now engaged the mom just because she’s in the other room and she’s available at that time because of flexibility,” Fenkel said.

Sometimes engaging the parents through virtual sessions can be life-saving for the younger patients.

“We’re able to say, ‘Mom, we’re in Laura’s room right now. She told me last night that she actually hurt herself. She hid the razors behind you in the bureau. Do you mind grabbing them?’ … It’s wraparound services that you’re providing and you’re able to do it virtually and have clinicians from all over the country. Clinicians without borders is what we like to call it,” Fenkel said.

Being able to include parents in treatment through virtual care has been “really important” when it comes to preventing suicide, according to Fenkel. But it’s also emotionally challenging for parents to be involved, which is why Charlie Health has support for them as well.

“Parents don’t want to show up to family sessions,” she said. “They feel shame, they feel blamed, they feel like they’re the reason why their kid is struggling and wants to hurt themselves. At Charlie Health, we offer 27 parent support groups a week. You can come into a group and sit and maybe have your camera off and be scared and feel some shame. But then you can listen to other parents and what they’re going through and hopefully have the courage to show up to a family session.”

Photo credit: Bohdan Skrypnyk, Getty Images