Youth in Crisis

Teens have to deal with many difficulties during adolescence. But sometimes those difficulties become a crisis.

These crises can include the uncertainty of COVID-19, loss of caregivers, school interruption, sociopolitical concerns like climate change, systemic racism and gun violence, and abuse at home.

If your teenager is going through a crisis, it’s important to recognize the warning signs and seek help.


Youth in crisis face challenges beyond the coronavirus pandemic, including loss of family members, social isolation and academic disruption. They also have to cope with the ongoing stresses of adolescence and the normal ups and downs of life. In addition, many young people have lived through or have been witness to traumatic events such as natural disasters, political unrest and war.

Trauma is defined as a distressing or life-threatening event that causes lasting adverse effects on mental, physical and emotional well-being. It can include a single incident such as a car accident or sexual assault, or repeated experiences over time such as domestic violence, gang violence or war.

Some people are more affected by trauma than others, and how a person reacts to an event can depend on a variety of factors, including previous traumatic experiences, other stressors and support. Symptoms of trauma can include difficulty sleeping, flashbacks, mood changes, lack of energy, body aches and pains and increased heart rate.


Addiction is a serious problem that causes people to use substances or engage in behaviors that cause psychological and physical harm. The term is most often used to refer to an addiction to drugs, but it can also include an addiction to alcohol or other behaviors.

Some youth may become addicted to substances or behaviors because of peer pressure, the availability of certain drugs (such as marijuana and cocaine), family problems or other factors. They may have a history of trauma or emotional neglect, and they can also have mental health issues such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression or schizophrenia.

A variety of treatment options are available, including counseling (individual and group), family therapy and medication. Some programs offer a dual diagnosis, which means they treat both the addiction and any associated mental health problems. Twelve-step fellowship programs such as AA and NA also provide free, self-empowering meetings for those with substance or alcohol abuse problems.

Mental Health Issues

Mental health problems in youth often go hand in hand with other concerns, such as drug use and higher risk sexual behaviors that can lead to unintended pregnancy and STDs. Having good mental health is key to preventing many of these risks.

If your teen suddenly withdraws from social activities or loses interest in things they previously enjoyed, it’s a red flag that should be taken seriously. Other signs to watch for include unexplained changes in eating and sleeping habits, suicidal thoughts or self-harm.

Teens with serious mental health issues who need specialized treatment may face barriers to getting help, including stigma and lack of availability of care. Those who are most at risk for poor mental health are adolescents living in humanitarian and fragile settings; those with chronic illness, developmental disabilities or an intellectual disability; and those from minority ethnic and sexual groups or who experience discrimination. A recent survey found that many children and teens who need specialized mental health care are being turned away because of a lack of available beds.

Family Issues

Family crisis can be very hard on children. They may feel incompetent and not able to handle the situation well or even understand what’s going on. They may hide emotions or act like they don’t need help, making it more difficult to get them the support services they need.

Financial situations such as eviction, no food, missing child support payments or repossession of property often contribute to family crises. Families who are struggling to make ends meet can become immobilized, unable to afford basic needs or even get their kids to school. They may start to fight more, resent one another or even shut down communication.

Previous research has shown that many kinds of family crisis are associated with worse youth development. For example, family conflict has been linked to lower parental supervision, and less joint family activities. Adolescents who are exposed to their parents’ drinking or substance abuse also tend to have poorer developmental outcomes.