Teletherapy giving young teenagers tools to process mental health issues

Published: December 16, 2021 9:15 AM EST
Updated: December 16, 2021 1:57 PM EST

Therapists are seeing a spike in young teens with anxiety. Two local girls are learning how to navigate those emotions through a service making mental health more accessible.

In pictures, 13-year-old Deonna Wilhoite and her 10-year-old sister Deriana are all smiles. But last summer, Deonna started experiencing panic attacks.

“A first I was, like, really, really scared, because I didn’t know what was happening,” Deonna said. “And so I would just have these random panic attacks… well, seemingly random panic attacks at the time.”

“It got to the point where I thought, you know, maybe there’s someone who knows a lot more about this than I might,” said Shawna Wilhoite, Deonna’s mother.

“You feel almost hopeless, in a sense,” Deonna said. “And it’s just scary. You don’t know what’s going on, you’re just panicking. Like, really, really hyped up, your heartbeat is going fast.”

The family found Elite DNA Therapy Services, but the girls, already homeschooled, didn’t even have to leave their house to get help there. Instead, they’re doing teletherapy.

“They’re used to talking with their friends in this way, so it’s working great,” said Tiffany Scott, a licensed clinical social worker at Elite DNA. She has been a therapist for 24 years and has never seen so many 12- to 17-year-olds battling anxiety and depression. Adults are having issues, too.

“We get about 1,000 calls a day,” Scott said.

From November 2020 to November 2021, compared to the same period the year before, Elite DNA saw a 54% increase in new patients. Scott credits teletherapy and says there has been an interesting change with these sessions from home.

“The arc of the session happens a lot faster,” Scott said. “So people get down to what we call the nitty-gritty a little bit faster because they are comfortable in their home.”

Even Deriana is learning techniques to identify her feelings and work through them.

“You breathe in, like, for like 3 seconds, for 4 seconds,” Deriana said. “And then you breathe out.”

Shawna Wilhoite is happy she made the decision to get help and provide her daughters with these tools.

“I’m kind of excited about the idea that they get to learn how to develop these tools and work on these things when they’re younger so that they’re not… we’re not 20, 25, 30 years down the line with them still trying to figure out how to grapple with some of these things that they feel,” Wilhoite said.

Teletherapy won’t save you any money; the costs are the same as in-person sessions. But having these conversations in their own spaces may make children more comfortable.


Mental health resources

If you are struggling or if you know a loved one who is in trouble, there is help and you are not alone. There is free and immediate support available 24/7. Below is a list of important resources:

In An Emergency

If you or a loved one is in immediate danger call 911. It is important to notify the operator that it is a psychiatric emergency and ask for an officer trained in crisis intervention or trained to assist people experiencing a psychiatric emergency.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If you or someone you know is in crisis—whether they are considering suicide or not—please call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7.

Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741

Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.

National Domestic Violence Hotline – Call 800-799-SAFE (7233)

Trained expert advocates are available 24/7 to provide confidential support to anyone experiencing domestic violence or seeking resources and information. Help is available in Spanish and other languages.

National Sexual Assault Hotline – Call 800-656-HOPE (4673)

Connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area that offers access to a range of free services. Crisis chat support is available at Online Hotline. Free help, 24/7.

Below are mental health resources available to Southwest Floridians at the national and local level.

David Lawrence Center (Collier County)

SalusCare (Lee County)

(NAMI) National Alliance on Mental Illness, Collier County

(NAMI) National Alliance on Mental Illness, Lee, Charlotte, Hendry Counties

The National Alliance for Caregiving offers a free handbook
Circle of Care: A Guidebook for Mental Health Caregivers

Collier County Mental Health Court

Lee County Mental Health Court

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Local Support Groups: Anxiety and Depression Association of America

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Help)

Local veterans resource: Home Base SWFL