Whether in the US or elsewhere, children and teens are experiencing a mental health crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the stress they face.
Many are left in economic limbo, and some turn to gangs or violence as an outlet for their frustration. Others enlist in armed groups or become sexually exploited.
Youth in crisis often have to deal with a range of problems that can affect their physical and emotional health. For example, some might have trouble coping with depression, anxiety or feelings of hopelessness, which can lead to self-harm and thoughts of suicide. They might also have difficulty managing anger, leading to conflicts with their families and peers.
Others are at risk due to a lack of access to basic needs. For instance, poor nutrition can affect brain development and contribute to long-term mental health issues. Many teens struggle to provide for their families, especially if they have been left behind as the result of natural disasters or war.
In addition to these factors, some young people might experience stressors that are specific to their social identity. These include adolescents living in humanitarian or fragile settings; those with chronic illness, autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disability; adolescent parents or children in early or forced marriages; and those who belong to minority ethnic or sexual groups.
While every teenager is different and the onset of symptoms can vary, there are some clear warning signs to look out for. These may include:
Emotional crisis can manifest as a lack of interest in daily activities, such as sleeping and eating, or an intensely negative outlook on life. It can also be a result of substance abuse and dangerous behaviors. For example, teenagers with anger issues may lie and manipulate others, and those who have depression can sometimes develop suicidal thoughts.
It’s important that parents stay involved with their children, and that they pay attention to changes in their moods and behavior. This can help them recognize when their child is in a mental health crisis and may need intervention. A good place to start is with a mental health assessment center, like ViewPoint Center, which can provide a well-rounded view of the challenges teens are facing, clarify potential diagnoses and collaborate with families to find an appropriate treatment plan.
Adolescence can be tough, and it’s not uncommon for some youth to experience a mental health crisis. During this time, they can be exploring their sexuality and relationships while facing other challenges like school stress, social media addictions, family dysfunction, and physical abuse.
Crisis services for youth must be tailored to meet their needs. They should focus on developing trust, providing individualized care, and offering safe, non-judgmental environments. These services should help prevent unnecessary hospitalizations and justice system involvement, if possible.
Treatments for teens in crisis include emergency interventions, intensive outpatient therapy, and residential treatment facilities. These programs are available for both children and teens with mental illness or substance use disorders. They provide a supervised and structured environment with a 24-hour staff to care for their mental health, medical, and behavioral needs. They can also help address co-occurring trauma and suicide ideations. For those who are not ready to admit themselves to a treatment program, there is a less-confrontational intervention model known as the Systemic Intervention Model.
Prevention efforts aim to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors in a youth’s environment. They address a number of areas including education, employment and poverty; hunger and nutrition; substance abuse; juvenile delinquency; leisure time activities; girls and young women; and the full participation of youth in community decision-making.
Speakers also highlighted the importance of developing and sustaining long-term relationships with children and their families, which is critical for identifying mental health needs and helping to destigmatize mental health care. Pediatricians, for example, have unique opportunities to build these relationships with children over their entire lifetime through regular well-child checkups and ongoing visits.
They can help to promote positive values, educate on how to recognize and respond to emotions such as depression or anxiety, and encourage youth to seek professional help. They can also provide support to children and their families by promoting the development of healthy family relationships, addressing family stressors, and encouraging parents to model positive behaviors for their children.