Mental Health of Youth in Crisis

If your teenager is experiencing a mental health crisis, it’s important to take immediate action. Call 911 or contact your local crisis line and explain the situation.

Help de-stigmatize mental health care by talking openly about it. Ensure that every child has access to high-quality, affordable, culturally competent mental health care in primary care practices, schools and other settings.


Suicide is a very serious threat to the mental health of youth. Among the most vulnerable are those who feel misunderstood, devalued or hopeless. They often feel they are a burden to their family or that their lives have no purpose. Often they suffer from mental illness, such as depression or bipolar disorder, which can contribute to a suicide attempt.

Many youth who kill themselves are addicted to drugs or alcohol. They use these substances to escape their problems, but they cannot keep up the habit. They also may have poor communication with their families, including direct conflicts and a lack of spending time together.

Whenever a person is thinking about suicide, it is important to take it seriously. It is never safe to agree to keep a suicide plan secret, and it is especially important not to trivialize an apparently incomplete or less dangerous plan. Instead, a young person should be encouraged to talk about it with a mental health professional as soon as possible.

Alcohol or drug abuse

Substance abuse is a common problem among youth and can be difficult to detect. It’s often accompanied by social problems, such as trouble at school or work, and poor relationships with family members and friends. It also can lead to criminal activity and other legal problems.

Adolescents may experiment with drugs or alcohol to explore their identities, or to cope with trauma. Depending on their genetics, some teens are more likely to develop a substance use disorder than others.

Frequently used drugs include marijuana, cocaine and heroin. People who misuse substances often have intense cravings and think about using drugs or alcohol constantly, even when they’re at work or school. They often need larger amounts of drugs to get high, and spend money on them more frequently than they planned. They may make excuses and lie to family, teachers or coworkers about their drug use. These behaviors can interfere with daily life and can cause serious health issues.

Mental health disorders

Teens with poor mental health are more likely to experience a range of negative experiences, including drug use, violence and higher-risk sexual behaviors that can lead to HIV or unintended pregnancy. Many of these problems can be prevented with early treatment.

A year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association joined with the U.S. surgeon general to declare a national emergency in youth mental health. These groups say rates of youth mental health disorders have been rising for more than a decade and were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

These groups suggest that crisis response systems should include family and peer support, schools, pediatricians, community mental health and substance abuse treatment providers and juvenile justice. They should also seek to reduce barriers and create incentives to increase collaboration between these groups. In addition, they should seek to build relationships with young people and their families that span across adolescence and beyond.

Family or peer problems

Adolescents living in poverty face an array of challenges that can contribute to a mental health crisis. This includes worries about whether they will have access to food and shelter, which can affect a teenager’s emotional regulation. It can also include the stress of dealing with racism and other sociopolitical issues.

Problems at school can also trigger a crisis in teens. They might be truant, bully classmates or have a learning disability that interferes with academic performance. This can be a sign of depression, low self-esteem or another underlying issue that requires professional treatment.

Family crises such as divorce or a parent’s alcohol abuse can also negatively impact the development of adolescents. Previous studies have linked them to lower subjective well-being, increased risk of delinquent behavior and a higher likelihood of maladaptive, life-interfering coping behaviors. These problems can be particularly difficult to overcome if they are not addressed quickly. This is why youth crisis services are available to help teenagers and their families address these concerns.