Youth in Crisis

The largest generation of youth in history is grappling with challenges from a range of sources. Covid-19 interrupted schools, systemic racism and gun violence, climate change and skewed political polarization can make it difficult for kids to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

But hope isn’t lost. There are ways to help a teenager in crisis.

1. Adolescence

Adolescence is a time when the focus shifts from the family to one’s friends and relationships. This transition can be emotionally and physically challenging for both the young person and his or her parents.

During this period, young people are vulnerable to making risky decisions that may put their lives in jeopardy. These may include getting pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted infection from unprotected sex, driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and engaging in other activities that could result in significant harm to themselves or others.

Families can help teens navigate this tumultuous time by discussing changes in the body, such as puberty, with them and providing information about safe sex, healthy relationships, and substance use. Also, it’s important for youth to have supportive community connections such as school and peer support groups.

2. Addiction

Addiction is a mental health condition where you become dependent on drugs and/or alcohol. It also includes addiction to behaviors such as gambling and internet use.

Addicts often feel out of control. Their addictions cause personal problems including poor grades, work performance, relationship difficulties and legal issues. They may try to cut back or quit using but cannot.

Behavioral treatments, like psychotherapy and family counseling, are often part of the treatment. These can help people change their habits, learn new skills and gain perspective. Medications can also be used to treat addictions. These can reduce cravings and help with withdrawal symptoms.

It’s important to find a family-based approach, such as Multisystemic Therapy (MST), which promotes full family involvement in the recovery process. This can include caretakers and siblings.

3. Depression

Depression is a serious mental health condition that can affect children, teens and adults. It can cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness. People with depression may have trouble thinking or sleeping, and they might not enjoy activities they used to.

Depression can be treated with psychotherapy and medications, which can help people with depression feel better. The best way to deal with depression is to get help early.

If someone you know is having a mental health crisis, try to stay with them and offer support. If the person is in danger of hurting themselves or others, call 911 or your local emergency number or text TALK to 741741 for help.

4. Family Issues

Many youths in crisis are suffering from family issues such as domestic violence, conflict between parents, drug abuse within the home and/or living in an incomplete or broken family. Previous studies have shown that different forms of family crises can disrupt developmental assets and lead to negative outcomes like risk-taking behaviour, emotional/behavioural problems, substance use and a higher risk of depression and anxiety.

In addition, feeling that one’s family doesn’t accept who they are as their true self can also trigger a mental health crisis. This can include not being able to talk openly about their sexuality, gender expression, interests or style and can be an additional factor that contributes to poor self-care/coping skills and substance abuse. The key is to provide a safe, stable environment for the youth and set them up for long-term recovery.

5. Homelessness

Each year, thousands of youth run away from home or experience homelessness. This population may be included in the annual point-in-time (PIT) count or identified through local school systems that receive funding under the McKinney-Vento Act to identify and serve homeless youth.

Homeless youth often require a different approach than adults. They need flexible housing options, connections to family and support networks, a variety of services including mental health and workforce development, and a pathway to long-term stability.

Programs should prioritize reunifying youth with their families or supports when safe and appropriate. Similarly, they should provide family-centered interventions to prevent youth from experiencing homelessness in the first place. Ideally, prevention and housing assistance programs should include youth-specific services and be coordinated across agencies. They should also consider implementing more flexible crisis response models such as community-based shelters, the CoC TH-RRH model or host homes.