How to help teens experiencing mental and physical pain

Posted on 12/14/21 12:33:pm


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Adolescence can be a challenging time. Physical, emotional, and social changes can cause teens to struggle with their mental health. According to the World Health Organization:

  • Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14.
  • Depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among teens worldwide.
  • Not addressing mental health conditions in teens results in impairment in physical and mental health in adulthood.

“Since the mind and body are interconnected, it’s not uncommon for a person to experience physical symptoms along with intense emotions,” says Gregory Evangelatos, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Rogers in Brown Deer.

Dr. Evangelatos says physical symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Stomachache
  • Changes in appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic aches and pain

The connection between mental and physical health

“Statistics show that for people who have an anxiety or mood disorder, their chances of having a co-occurring pain disorder increases by 50 to 60%,” says Dr. Evangelatos. “Oftentimes, they see their doctor or go to the emergency room to treat their physical symptoms, and their mental health issues go untreated. It’s important to remember these are real experiences of pain and discomfort, regardless of whether a medical doctor can diagnose the exact cause,” he explains.

A person’s mental health also affects how they tolerate physical pain.

“Their experience of pain might be intensified,” Dr. Evangelatos explains. “They tend to fixate on the negative and catastrophize, and often have a reduced tolerance for pain,” he says.

Dr. Evangelatos says the evidence-based treatment cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps patients understand the relationship between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

“A person thinks, ‘I can’t do this.’ This leads to feelings of sadness which can cause avoidance and isolation,” Dr. Evangelatos says. “The experience of pain can become so intense, the patient is unable to participate in normal day-to-day activities,” he explains.

Unique program in Wisconsin

Rogers is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin to offer the Integrated Healing Program, intensive outpatient mental health and rehabilitation services for teens struggling with both pain and functional disorders occurring with mental health conditions.

Multidisciplinary teams, including Rogers’ child and adolescent psychiatrists and psychologists, and medical, health psychology, and physical therapy experts from the Jane B. Pettit Pain and Headache Center at Children’s Wisconsin, collaborate to provide intensive rehabilitative, medical services, and mental health treatment. The service components of the Integrated Healing Program are provided separately and independently by Children’s Wisconsin, Rogers Behavioral Health, and The Medical College of Wisconsin.

“It’s a unique offering for this region,” says Dr. Evangelatos who supervises the services. “We help patients rise above their mental health challenges while simultaneously work to improve their physical functioning. Our goal is to help our patients retrain their minds and bodies so that they can do things like go to school and participate in activities they used to enjoy. We want to decrease the use of pain medications along with doctor visits and trips to specialists and emergency rooms,” he says.

Dr. Evangelatos says educating and supporting parents is a critical part of the work.

“We’ve had a lot of success with parents,” he says. “While it’s understandable that a parent may want to allow a child to stay home from school or skip an activity, we know that isn’t necessarily in the patient’s interest, and it tends to be counterproductive. We teach parents alternative ways to engage with their child, and parents have been appreciative,” he says.

The collaborative services are available for teens ages 13 through 18. The first step in determining whether a teen is a good fit for the program is to have them medically evaluated. Prospective patients will be evaluated by providers at the Pain and Headache Center and Rogers. Services are provided Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4 pm. To schedule an evaluation, call 414-266-3955.

Rogers offers help across the country

Rogers offers compassionate, individualized care for children and adolescents nationwide. You can call 800-767-4411 for a free, confidential screening. A screening can also be requested online.

Call 800-767-4411 or go to to request a free screening.