Supporting Youth in Crisis

youth in crisis

Teens often have trouble talking to adults about their problems. One solution is for cities to offer a crisis line specifically for youth.

The most important part of any crisis center for teens is setting them and their caregivers up for long-term success. This includes meeting with both of them, creating safety plans and providing individualized resources.

What Causes a Crisis?

Psychologists around the country are trying to make sense of all the new challenges young people face, including anxiety disorders, social media addiction, mass shootings, natural disasters, political polarization and climate change. Add in the disruptions caused by Covid-19 and a tough academic year, and it’s no wonder that many kids and teens are struggling. In fact, a 2021 CDC study found that more than half of all teens had considered suicide during the previous year. That was particularly true for Black teens, girls and LGBTQ youth.

The longer a teenager waits to get help during a mental health crisis, the more damage can be done. It can be hard to know how serious their situation is, and they may even be at risk of harming themselves or others. They might also develop life-interfering and harmful coping behaviors and habits, such as drug abuse or technology addictions. This can cause lasting damage to their emotional well-being and future.

What Are the Signs of a Crisis?

Several different things can trigger emotional crises in teens. Some examples include self-harm (which can be a form of coping with intense emotions), feelings of suicide, and trouble managing anger. It is important to know the signs of a mental health crisis so that you can take action when necessary.

Biological factors such as hormone changes can also play a role in teen crises, and so can environmental factors like family violence, homelessness, or the loss of a loved one. Other societal issues such as racism, sexism, and discrimination can be traumatic for teens and increase their risk of emotional and behavioral struggles.

While the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated youth mental health problems, young people have been struggling with these issues for a long time. In the decade leading up to the pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness grew by 40% among teens, according to the CDC’s Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES). This is why it is so critical to recognize the warning signs of a mental health crisis.

How Can I Help My Teen?

As a parent, it is important to be willing to talk about mental health and be available to listen to your teenager. It is also important to make it clear that you will not judge them or lecture them. Having regular “check in” conversations about tough topics will help make them more comfortable opening up to you during times of crisis.

Be sure to practice active listening by asking questions that require more than a yes or no answer, such as “what have you been thinking about lately?”

Teenagers often feel more comfortable talking about their problems with peers. Some youth crisis lines, such as YouthLine, are staffed by teenagers and young adults, in order to provide this peer-to-peer support. Whether or not you are able to talk with your teenager in person, it is often helpful to consider a phone or video session with a mental health professional. This can allow them to discuss their concerns in a more private and discreet manner.

What Can I Do to Help My Teen?

As a parent, you can do many things to support your teenager in a crisis. For example, be sure they feel safe enough to open up to you and prioritize their emotional and mental health by eating well, exercising regularly and prioritizing positive social connections.

You can also talk with a mental health care professional who specializes in working with youth. They can help you understand your options and find the best treatment for your teen’s unique needs.

If your teenager is at risk of hurting themselves or someone else, seek immediate help by calling 911 or a local crisis line. If they have a history of severe behavioral issues, a residential treatment center may be an option. It offers a longer-term, live-in therapy environment that provides more structure and safety. It can be a good choice when other treatment options have not been successful. It is important to take these struggles seriously and not brush them off as typical teen angst. Many lifelong psychological problems begin during adolescence.