by Naveen Kassamali, LMFT
It can be challenging for teens to recognize signs and symptoms of abusive relationships because they are new to dating. For a teen who has been abused before, it’s even more difficult because their perception of a healthy relationship is skewed. There are some warning signs to look out for such as developing low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and withdrawn behavior towards adults. It’s important to recognize these signs so that you can help prevent further abuse.
Warning signs of abusive relationships:
Pressure to engage in sexual activity
Pressure to not use protection during sexual activity
Controlling behavior such as refusing to let a partner spend time with their friends and family
Using drugs and alcohol
This article presents a case study of a teenager struggling to get out of an abusive relationship. It highlights some common symptoms for parents and teachers to be watchful for and how the teen found help through using a digital mental health app. The case study involves a fictitious identity; any resemblance to a real person is completely coincidental.
Sheena, the school counselor, is concerned about student Jenna’s grades and her lack of engagement in school activities. Sheena brings Jenna to the counselor's office to talk. Sheena notices that Jenna has bruises on her arm and asks her if anything is going on that she would like to share. Jenna is a 15-year old female struggling to get out of an abusive relationship. She feels trapped and constantly stressed. She doesn’t know who to ask for help because she has isolated her friends at school. When Sheena mentions the bruises, Jenna starts telling her about her relationship. Sheena recognizes that Jenna is in an abusive relationship. They follow their school’s guidelines, set up a meeting with Jenna’s parents, and make a safety plan for Jenna.
A few weeks later, the situation has de-escalated and Jenna is safe. She’s no longer in an abusive relationship, but is dealing with the after effects. Sheena schedules weekly one-on-one sessions with Jenna, but realizes that she doesn’t have the time to teach Jenna daily coping skills. Sheena researches tools that will teach Jenna coping skills and help keep track of Jenna between appointments. That’s when Sheena found Neolth, a digital health app for students.
Through the app, Jenna is matched with self-guided SEL and relaxation activities made by clinicians. Jenna discovers which modality works best for her: she tries yoga, art, breathing and cognitive behavioral therapy exercises and finds she prefers cognitive behavioral therapy to help change patterns of negative thinking and breathing to help in moments of overwhelm. Jenna also discovers that Neolth helps students find free crisis resources. She is matched with , a national hotline for anyone affected by sexual assault, and , confidential text and hotline support for teens seeking help about healthy relationships and dating abus