Mental Health and Well-Being of Youth in Crisis

Children and teens in crisis often feel isolated, alone, or out of control. Whether they lost caregivers to Covid-19, experienced academic disruption or are dealing with other life issues that can cause mental health challenges, they need help now.

A recent national survey by the Centers for Disease Control shows that feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness are increasing, as are suicidal thoughts and behavior.

Mental Health Disorders

A mental illness is a health condition that affects your emotions, thoughts and behaviors. It can cause distress and interfere with everyday life activities, but it can also be treated. Treatment options include talk therapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy) and medications.

Youth in crisis often have complex and varied issues that can contribute to their mental health problems. These may include unpredictability during the COVID-19 pandemic, loss of a sense of stability and belonging due to changing school structures and schedules, abuse at home or in relationships, and sociopolitical concerns like systemic racism, gun violence, climate change and poverty. Look for changes in your child’s mood or habits that signal that they may be struggling. Some signs to watch for include increased drinking, using drugs and self-harm.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse impacts every aspect of life. It can be a mental health problem and is often linked to poor judgment, risky sexual activity and unplanned pregnancy. Many teens who misuse drugs experience academic difficulties, health-related problems and involvement with the juvenile justice system. They may also have financial challenges as a result of lost productivity.

Teens often experiment with alcohol and drugs to relieve stress, feel better about themselves, rebel against parents or challenge their peer group. Genetics and environmental factors also play a role in substance use.

Teens who are struggling with drug abuse or addiction can find help at Maria clinics. Treatment programs offer support groups, education and guidance on relapse prevention. Families and friends can help by being supportive and encouraging their loved ones to get treatment.


Addiction is an intense craving for a substance or activity that causes you to continue using it even when it’s having serious consequences for your life. You may experience physical and emotional problems, including a failure to meet work or family responsibilities, problems with friends and withdrawal symptoms.

The brain changes that occur with addiction can cause you to lose control over your choices. Addiction is a chronic disease, and many people with addictions are not aware they have a problem.

Adolescents are at a greater risk for developing addictions because critical parts of their brains are still growing. These developmental factors interact with environmental factors to increase the likelihood of drug use and the development of addiction. People often allude to addiction by describing their casual use of substances or behavior as addictive, but the medical community uses specific terms for these disorders.

Family Issues

Family issues can have a major impact on the mental health and well-being of teenagers in crisis. These issues can include conflicts with siblings, lying and manipulation, risky behaviors and chronic stress.

Substance abuse and addiction can affect the entire family, creating tension and causing harm to relationships. Families need to learn how to support their loved ones while promoting their own mental health and well-being.

Families can also be resistant to participating in an at-risk youth program, due to a lack of understanding about the benefits or cultural or personal beliefs that conflict with the program’s approach. Working with a mental health professional to address these concerns can help families get the most out of the program. They can also help teenagers in crisis find the treatment they need.


Many youth in crisis are living on the fringes of society and eking out a living on the black market. They are at an increased risk of HIV infection and other diseases. This is especially true in developing countries.

Conflict can be a major trigger for children and youth in crisis. It can be caused by a relationship breakup, a natural disaster, a loss of job, physical or emotional abuse, a violent act/accident and more.

A lawsuit filed against the state of New York claims that the system has failed to adequately address mental health crises among low-income families, children of color and LGBTQIA+ youth. One group working to address these issues is Mobile Response and Stabilization Services (MRSS). Their officers are trained to know when a child is in mental health crisis and better serve them through community resources.