Mental Health Issues for Youth in Crisis

Adolescents often experience mental health crises for many reasons including breakups, a serious illness in their family, natural or large-scale disasters, domestic or international violence, sexual abuse or an emotional or physical trauma.

It is important to know how to recognize the signs of crisis in adolescents and seek help. Providing adolescents with an outlet to express their emotions such as exercise, art or meditation is also important.


A wide variety of factors contribute to depression in teens. From school and work pressures, to a lack of supportive relationships or social outlets, to family issues like abuse or divorce, young people have many reasons to be stressed. The COVID-19 pandemic added to these factors and made it harder for kids to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Parents and caregivers can help by actively listening to their youth, asking open-ended questions, and providing more space for them to talk about how they are feeling. They can also encourage their children to talk with a mental health professional, and by making sure they know that what they say will be kept confidential. Similarly, teachers and other mental health professionals can support their students by offering more time to talk without pushing. And they can also let them know that they will be able to access counseling services for free through telephone hotlines staffed by trained mental health clinicians.


Anxiety symptoms can include endless worries, heart-pounding discomfort in the body and physical symptoms like trembling and ringing in the ears. They can also cause people to withdraw from family and friends, stop going to school or work and avoid situations that trigger anxiety. These behaviours can lead to poor performance, isolation and depression.

There are many things that can cause anxiety, including a history of trauma and negative life events, such as arguments between parents or poverty. Being a member of a marginalised group, such as the LGBTQ community, or living in humanitarian and fragile settings, can also increase the risk of mental health challenges.

Most anxiety disorders respond well to psychotherapy, sometimes called “talk therapy,” and medication. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, helps people learn to recognise and overcoming distressing thoughts and feelings. Medications manage the physical symptoms of anxiety. Speak to your GP about which treatment is right for you.


Self-harm is any behaviour that causes injury – most often cutting, burning, taking nonlethal overdoses – to try and cope with distressing thoughts and feelings. It can also include eating disorders and alcohol or drug misuse. People who self-harm need to be treated in the same way as people with a mental health condition and should get help from their GP or a mental health service. They can also get support from organisations who specialise in this, such as Sane and Childline.

Many young people who self-harm need to find other ways to deal with their emotions, so counselling may help them. They can also learn coping skills through programmes such as Beyond Blue’s Youthbeyondblue and ReachOut.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your GP or a friend about your self-harm, although you may feel uncomfortable doing so at first. It is not a sign of weakness and most people who self-harm do recover with treatment.


Suicide is a major public health issue and it is one of the leading causes of death for teens in high-income countries. Research shows that suicide is often the result of a mental illness, especially depression, and many teens who commit suicide have had previous attempts.

Attempts to kill themselves are often impulsive and are caused by a teen feeling overwhelmed by a combination of emotions, stress, pressures from school or family, financial worries, relationship problems, and chronic pain or illness. Some teens don’t really want to die but feel they can’t talk about their feelings and a suicide attempt is the only way they know how to express them.

Everyone plays a role in suicide prevention and can help teens in crisis. Parents, teachers, coaches and extracurricular activity leaders, service providers and community members can all play a role in identifying youth at risk for suicide and helping them get the help they need.