Mental Health Assessments for Youth in Crisis

youth in crisis

A mental health crisis is a terrifying experience for any teenager. A mental health assessment can help them cope with their situation and get the treatment they need.

Many young people live in limbo, unable to contribute to their societies (see Youth and War feature). The erosion of traditional values and rampant poverty make them more likely to fill the economic vacuum by joining armed factions or street gangs.

Disenchanted youth

When there is a lack of economic opportunities, disenchanted youth turn to crime and violence. They may join armed factions or become involved in street gangs, and they are more likely to fall prey to sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse. This trend is particularly disturbing in developing countries, where millions struggle to make ends meet.

These conditions can cause youth to develop mental health problems, which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the decade leading up to the outbreak, feelings of hopelessness and suicidal behavior among young people rose by about 40%, according to data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. This increase can be linked to poverty, unemployment, and a lack of access to adequate housing, education, and healthcare.


Suicide is one of the most common causes of death in youth. It is particularly devastating for adolescent kids. Research shows that for every one suicide in this age group, there are about 100-200 attempts. Youth at risk for suicide may have many warning signs. These include becoming withdrawn, irritable or apathetic and sleeping and eating differently than usual. They also may try to hide their feelings from others and have little interest in life.

Other warning signs are a history of substance abuse and access to lethal means, including firearms and pills. Other risk factors for suicide are bullying, academic stress and trouble with authority figures at home or school. Also, it is important that kids have strong connections with family members and friends, and good problem-solving abilities.


While we have come a long way with treatments, HIV still remains a major global health issue. The virus can be contracted through unprotected sex and certain risky behaviours such as sharing syringes. It is most prevalent among marginalized people such as commercial sex workers and those who identify as LGBTI.

These groups are also at higher risk of mental health problems and have trouble accessing appropriate care. It is important to address both the HIV and mental health needs of these individuals.

Adolescent girls and young women are at particular risk of contracting HIV. They often have no economic empowerment and face gender-based violence. The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening this risk, as adolescent women are forced into unsafe sexual practices to meet their needs in the absence of income and employment.

Mental health disorders

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, kids and teens were already showing up in emergency rooms seeking help for mental health issues like anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. For many, the pandemic exacerbated the challenges they faced: uncertainty about school structures and schedules; abuse or neglect at home; sociopolitical concerns like systemic racism, gun violence or climate change; and financial stresses related to unemployment or homelessness.

Mental illness is not a character flaw or something to be ashamed of. It is a medical condition, just like diabetes or heart disease. It can be treated, usually with a combination of talk therapy (psychotherapy) and medication.

Youth in crisis need access to effective, developmentally appropriate and culturally competent mental health treatment that addresses their specific needs and is based on an accurate diagnosis. This may include psychotherapy, peer support and medication.


Addiction is a complex disease that affects multiple areas of the brain. It can cause serious health and social problems and is difficult to quit on your own.

A person with addiction experiences intense cravings for a substance or behavior, even after trying to cut back or stop. Using the substance or engaging in the behavior consumes a great deal of their time, interferes with family life and work and can lead to legal or financial trouble. They may lie about their use or engage in risky behaviors to obtain the substance or activity.

Genetic and environmental factors increase a person’s likelihood of developing an addiction. Children living in homes with parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are four times more likely to experience neglect than children of non-addicted families.