By Tina Irgang
As a teenager and young adult, Jamison Monroe Jr. struggled with depression and anxiety. When he recovered, he decided to give back by opening Newport Academy, a comprehensive treatment center for teens with mental health issues. Here, Monroe discusses how his personal experiences shaped the academy’s approach to treating teens, and what lessons his career in mental health has held for his own parenting.
What got you interested in helping teens with mental health issues?
Monroe: When I was a teenager, I struggled with depression and anxiety, and never got help for it until my early 20s. So it manifested in self-medicating with substances in my later teens and early 20s, and I ended up in a handful of treatment centers in all corners of the U.S. When I finally did get well, I wanted to give back. … A lot of places that I went overpromised and under-delivered on the care they provided. They relied on one type of treatment and didn’t offer a holistic or comprehensive treatment program. So I wanted to develop a center of excellence … that really addressed teenagers from a family-systems model, that provided a wide range of different types of treatment modalities, and that met kids where they were at to provide personalized medicine. That wasn’t what I got.
Can you explain what you mean by “holistic treatment,” and how that’s expressed in Newport Academy’s treatment philosophy?
Monroe: I don’t say holistic to necessarily mean alternative. Sometimes it can be misinterpreted that way. I say it to mean “all-encompassing.” So we do dozens of different types of therapy at Newport Academy, and those include psychiatry, psychology, family therapy and other types of treatment. … In addition to that, we do offer a whole lot of experiential therapies that include yoga, meditation, martial arts, equine-assisted psychotherapy and art therapy. … The big difference is that our focus is not on the behavior, or what we call the symptoms. Our treatment focuses on the underlying causes. So the question isn’t, why is a kid acting out? The question, is why are they in pain? So our role is to identify the cause of a behavior and heal that cause.
What is your goal for the kids to achieve before they leave the academy?
Monroe: Most of these kids’ issues have led them to an overwhelming low self-esteem and negative self-image, so our goal is to heal the underlying traumas that have led to negative self-belief, and instill a sense of self-worth and self-esteem that can be carried on, with newly learned, effective coping skills for life.
Do you have any success stories that you’re particularly proud of?
Monroe: Hundreds of them. A young kid, we’ll call him Jake, came to us. His father had passed away unexpectedly when he was 14, which led him into great depression and grief and substance abuse. He came to us at 15 years old, into our residential treatment program. He was with us for 60 days, and then transitioned into an outpatient program at one of our private high schools. He was with us for two-and-a-half years, graduated from high school and now he is a sophomore at UC Berkeley.
Another story — a young lady we’ll call her Kristen, had been away at boarding school, was suffering from depression, ADHD, an eating disorder, self-harm, trauma and substance abuse. Kristen got kicked out of boarding school at the end of her junior year, came to us during that summer, and for her senior year went back home to a small private school. She graduated from there and went on to NYU.
What’s the most challenging thing about leading Newport Academy, and what’s the most rewarding thing?
Monroe: One of the most challenging things about running the academy is when we can’t get parents to participate in the treatment process. Even if their teenagers say the opposite, parents have a huge influence on their child. So we can see the difference between a family where parents show up for therapy and families where they don’t. And then the most rewarding I would say is when we do have families and teenagers that are in great discord, a lot of dysfunction happening in their lives — say we’ve got a kid whose parents are at a loss for what to do, very fearful that their teenager may die, mom and dad have a strained relationship, the child checks in, the family fully participates in the program, and at the end of two to three months, a child has an innate self-worth. The family is open, vulnerable and communicative, and everybody’s working toward the shared goal of recovery as a family.
You recently became a parent. Have you learned any lessons in leading Newport Academy that you’re planning to apply to your own parenting?
Monroe: I think that in working with teenagers, it’s become a theme that when parents aren’t around, it deeply affects children in a very negative way. So as a new parent, I am making every effort and plan to continue to be with my kid as much as possible. That’s my number-one priority, is being a father.
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