During adolescence, many children and teens encounter challenges beyond the normal ups and downs of life. They may experience a mental health crisis due to Covid-19, loss of loved ones, economic instability, natural disasters, global political polarization, or physical/emotional abuse at home.
It’s important to help these youth get the right care and support. This includes providing a safe space, conducting a psychosocial assessment, and setting up them up for long term recovery.
Helping a Youth in Crisis
Youth need safe, appropriate, well-informed mental health crisis services. Unfortunately, too often, they’re hospitalized or bounce around detention centers and the justice system without consistent community-based care. This leaves them vulnerable to a variety of harmful outcomes, including further deterioration of their mental and behavioral health.
Disenchanted youth are especially susceptible to feelings of hopelessness and despair, which can lead them down a path of drug abuse and gang involvement, or even suicide. In fact, suicide was the second leading cause of death among teens ages 10 to 14 in 2020.
Help a youth in need by teaching them about warning signs and encouraging them to speak up. Make sure they know to put the Crisis Text Line in their phone contacts so they can talk with a peer advocate 24/7. They can also reach out to LoveisMatter by texting 22522 or visiting their website. This program provides support and assistance to LGBTQ youth who may be at risk for dating violence or suicidal thoughts.
Helping a Family in a Crisis
The pandemic era has brought new challenges to young people’s lives, including persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. A CDC report in 2021 found that more than one third of high school students reported feeling this way. This may be due to the loss of family members or the heightened fear of contracting and spreading the virus.
Poverty and hunger can also have a negative impact on mental health. In fact, a study published in 2022 found that children and teens who have to worry about not having enough to eat are more likely to experience depression.
Many states are working to make crisis services more accessible to youth in need. This includes making community-based options like mobile crisis response teams available, while implementing diversion policies that keep youth out of juvenile court and focused on their behavioral health needs. These efforts can help reduce the number of times a youth visits an emergency department.
Helping a Child in a Crisis
During a crisis it is important to keep children and youth safe. This may mean removing them from a situation that is dangerous, reassuring them and telling them that you will get help if they are hurt or put others in danger. Depending on the age, size and strength of the child it may also be necessary to call for police assistance in either restraint or transporting them to a mental health emergency service or hospital.
If a child is in a mental health crisis they might be thinking about suicide, threatening self-harm or harming someone else, acting aggressively, destroying property, running away or having hallucinations. It is helpful to talk with your child’s therapist/treatment team about the risks, signs and symptoms of a crisis.
Crises and traumatic events can have long-term effects on children’s psychological functioning, emotional adjustment, and development trajectories. Children can be especially vulnerable to these effects if they have preexisting trauma, loss or adjustment difficulties.
Helping a Teen in a Crisis
During adolescence many teens go through challenges that make it difficult to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Biological factors such as hormone changes, and family or personal life issues can contribute to a teen mental health crisis.
These can include a parent or relative’s substance abuse, death of a loved one, natural disaster, bullying or a sexual assault. Other issues can include a lack of healthy coping skills, academic pressure to perform better than others and social stigmas that may impact their ability to seek help or get support.
If your teenager is experiencing a crisis and outpatient therapy isn’t effective, you might want to consider a residential treatment program for them. These programs can offer increased therapy sessions, schooling and structure to help your teen manage their problems more effectively. They can also offer additional services such as drug and alcohol treatment and more specialized therapy options. These can be particularly helpful if your teen is exhibiting harmful or risky behaviors that cannot be managed in less restrictive settings.