Helping Youth in Crisis

If you are concerned about your teen’s emotional and mental state, you should take action. Ignoring a teenager’s crisis can have serious and lasting negative effects. Some of these include:

Many youths are facing difficult times, including anxiety over social media use, climate change, natural disasters, economic pressures and political polarization. Addressing these issues can help prevent youth suicides and other destructive behaviors.

Behavioral health crisis services

Young people face a crisis of mental, emotional and behavioral health. Too often, they are stuck in emergency departments waiting for an available treatment bed; cycle in and out of psychiatric hospitals; contemplate or attempt suicide; and have difficulty getting into and staying in school.

The need for effective, youth-specific crisis services is clear. New York City has made good progress with NYC Well, which offers free, confidential support and counseling to children and teens; telehealth programs that connect students with clinicians; and mobile crisis teams.

However, a comprehensive and integrated system is needed to meet the needs of young people in crisis. These systems need to be trauma-informed and include a mix of in-home crisis intervention services, respite care, and support for families; community-based outreach; receiving centers and stabilization centers, and mental health and substance use home-based crisis management. They must also be fully integrated with Medicaid, the largest payer of mental health services for children and youth.

Mental health crisis services

Provides children and youth with telephone counseling, assessment, and referral for mental health and emotional problems. Counselors help callers deal with the many changes, frustrations, pressures, and decisions of growing up. Specially trained counselors also assist young callers who talk about suicide, depression, and drug and alcohol use/abuse.

A behavioral crisis is any non-life threatening situation that requires immediate attention and may involve a person who is at risk of harming themselves or others, disoriented, or in a state of unmanageability. Anyone can experience a crisis, regardless of whether or not they have a diagnosed mental illness.

For New York City residents, the mobile crisis team consists of social workers and nurses who can be dispatched to individuals in a mental health crisis. The service is available 24 hours a day. A suicide prevention hotline for people of all ages is also available: 988. The hotline is free and bilingual. Another resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

Substance abuse crisis services

Substance abuse crisis services are a vital link in the chain of care for youth in crisis. These programs offer comprehensive, integrated care in a safe and nurturing environment. They also provide outreach and education for youth and their families. They can help identify the signs and symptoms of an addiction, as well as connect them with treatment options.

These programs are designed to rapidly address and respond to individuals during a behavioral health crisis in order to achieve the most desirable outcomes. They strive to provide treatment in the most dignified, recovery oriented and least restrictive setting, in lieu of an inpatient setting whenever possible. In addition, they work with individuals’ immediate support networks and assist in referral and linkage to keep them connected in the community with structured support (when appropriate) to promote recovery/resiliency and have a plan in place to divert future crises.

Throughout the state, community services boards (CSBs) are the primary point of entry into the public behavioral health and developmental services system for adults and children. To locate a CSB in your area, visit the SAMHSA Treatment Services Locator website.

Emergency shelters

Homelessness is a worldwide challenge, and it’s especially difficult for youth. Those who are homeless may have a variety of causes, including mental health problems, substance abuse, family conflict, or being “kicked out” of the home. They also may have a hard time accessing emergency services, and they often face a number of challenges with finding housing and jobs.

Interface provides comprehensive services for homeless youths, and supports them in moving forward. Among those services are shelter programs that help them meet their basic needs, build skills for self-reliance, and find employment and permanent housing. The program also provides education, job skills training, and peer connections.

In New York City, youth who cannot stay with their parents can seek assistance at the city’s patchwork of emergency shelters for the homeless. These include crisis service programs and Transitional Independent Living (TIL) programs for young people ages 16 to 20 or 21 to 24. Youths who are looking for these sites typically start at a drop-in center to get a referral.