Youth in Crisis

Whether they lost a parent to Covid-19, were affected by the societal disruption caused by the pandemic or are dealing with domestic violence, youth in crisis are finding it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Psychologists are addressing this problem by offering support to teens, their families and their communities.

What is a Crisis?

A crisis is a time of intense emotional turmoil that requires immediate attention. Teenagers often experience psychological, emotional and physical crises that can affect their mental health and cause distress to family members.

In a crisis, teenagers feel they have lost control of their life and can no longer cope with their challenges. Their behavior may become irrational and destructive, such as self-harm or substance abuse. They may also have thoughts of harming or killing themselves or others.

Unlike adults, youth generally live with their families, so any child or youth crisis must involve the entire family as well. This is why MRSS’s crisis services focus on children and their families rather than individuals.

Identifying a Crisis

Teens have many challenges as they navigate adolescence. They may struggle with forming relationships, exploring sexuality and developing self-confidence. They also may experience stress related to family, school and social pressures. These stresses can result in a mental health crisis.

Teens experiencing a mental health crisis are often unsure what to do and may avoid seeking treatment. This can lead to dangerous situations, including suicidal thoughts, substance abuse or trouble with the law.

Youths in crisis need immediate attention from a trained professional. A crisis is a life-threatening situation that requires an emergency response from law enforcement or CPS. However, a person in crisis may not always be at risk of harming themselves or others. It is important to consider how a youth might react when determining whether a situation is a crisis. For example, a youth who is homeless or hungry could have a poor reaction to a stressful event. On the other hand, a teenager who is struggling to cope with a trauma, like the death of a loved one, might not show much of a reaction.

Supporting a Youth in a Crisis

Youth in crisis are not only dealing with their own emotional struggles but often also the concerns of family members. Communication problems within the family, strained relationships, unhealthy coping skills and financial strain can all contribute to the current mental health crisis among children and teens.

If you think your child is in crisis, call a local help line. Many human services organizations offer a dedicated children’s crisis team to assess the situation, keep everyone safe and work with you to develop a plan for care.

If your teen is feeling overwhelmed, encourage them to find an outlet such as art, playing music or meditation. It is also important to know their crowd so you can help track any drastic changes in their behavior. Finally, just like flight attendants instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen mask before helping others, it is essential for parents and caregivers to take time for themselves. This will help them better manage their own stress and be a more effective support system for their loved ones.

Managing a Youth in a Crisis

As with adults, youth in crisis need specialized services and support. This includes a dedicated, developmentally appropriate call center that is equipped to understand and respond to the unique challenges of this population. In addition, staff should be trained to listen carefully to non-verbal communication as well as conduct a thorough psychosocial assessment of the youth.

This can help identify and address underlying issues that might contribute to their crisis, such as homelessness, poverty, substance use and other co-occurring mental health conditions. It also allows for the creation of more targeted interventions to address a specific issue, such as suicide prevention.

If a young person is experiencing an acute or chronic crisis, they may need to be placed in a residential treatment program for longer-term care. These programs offer a safe and supportive environment that can help set them up for long-term recovery and success. This is a great option for young people who struggle to engage in more traditional forms of therapy, like outpatient care.