Youth are often overlooked in discussions of mental health, but they are a critical population to address. After all, they have unique needs that must be addressed.
For example, they spend much of their time in person and online with their friends, which can help them notice a sudden change in behavior before adults do. Moreover, they are likely to have friends who are suffering from mental health issues.
Identifying the Root Causes
A crisis is when a young person is experiencing a sudden and overwhelming mental health problem that requires immediate attention. It can include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts.
A teen in crisis may also be self-harming, having thoughts of hurting themselves, or becoming angry at other people and their environment. It is important to work with a qualified mental health professional to understand these issues, and identify the root causes of their behavior.
Youth are more likely to run away when they have a family or caregiver who is unsupportive, and they are more likely to commit crimes when they lack stable housing. They are also more likely to be sexually active and involved in delinquent survival strategies on the street, such as selling drugs, shoplifting, burglary, robbery or prostitution. These factors contribute to their poor educational performance, especially compared with their never-homeless counterparts. They are also more likely to change schools frequently.
Engaging the Family/Caregiver(s)
Behavioral health providers should engage the family/caregiver(s) of the youth in crisis as part of their assessment process and discharge plan. It can increase the likelihood of a smooth transition from treatment to home, including accessing individualized resources and post-crisis follow-up appointments.
Engaging the family/caregiver(s) can help staff identify the root causes of the youth’s crisis and how to best support them. For example, unhealthy coping skills, strained relationships within the family, and communication struggles may be affecting the youth’s ability to get help.
Providing family members with opportunities to participate in trainings, leadership teams, and committees can ensure they have a voice in their system of care and are well prepared and supported. Additionally, family leaders often have first-hand experience with navigating complex systems on behalf of their children and can provide invaluable insight to system partners.
Conducting a Comprehensive Mental Health Assessment
The mental health assessment process is a multi-disciplinary approach that includes an interview, physical examination, written questionnaires and lab tests. The assessment may also include art, music, photos, play therapy, drama therapy or electronic assessment tools to help identify mental illness symptoms and learn about a person’s social environment.
In addition, the mental health professional will ask about other family members’ or friends’ health problems and their experiences with mental illness or suicide. These factors will help determine the best course of treatment.
During the assessment, the clinician will talk with the youth about how they are feeling and how they view their world. They will use various assessments to identify depression, anxiety, learning disabilities or substance abuse issues.
It is important to remember that mental health conditions only get worse over time if they are not treated. Getting treatment as early as possible helps ensure that the individual has a chance to recover and make lasting behavioral change.
Providing Personalized Care
In a crisis situation, it may be necessary to provide a youth with more intensive care and treatment. This may include hospitalization in an inpatient unit or a more secure environment such as a short-stay stabilization unit.
This requires staff to carefully and thoughtfully assess the situation and develop a plan of care for the youth, setting them up for long-term success. This can be done through a comprehensive psychiatric assessment, referrals to community resources and a discharge plan for both the youth and their family/caregivers.
In order for personalized interventions to be implemented, researchers must develop the tools and resources clinicians need to implement them. This includes advancing research on personalizing approaches to keep up with practice needs, supporting clinicians’ use of personalized approaches in their clinical practice and improving the ability to understand why treatments work for particular individuals.