Youth in Crisis

Youth in crisis face many challenges: parents who drink, smoke or use drugs; bullying and violence at school or on the streets; and racial injustice and international strife. These issues can exacerbate preexisting mental health concerns and lead to destructive behaviors.

It’s important to teach children and teens about warning signs so they can get help before things escalate.

1. Call 911 or a local crisis line

A mental health crisis can be triggered by a variety of factors. Children and teens can lose control and act irrationally during a crisis. They may become withdrawn and uncommunicative or they might be very aggressive toward themselves or others. They might also run away or have dangerous thoughts of suicide.

In these situations it is important to call 911 or your local crisis line right away. These services are staffed with trained counselors who will listen and respond to your concerns in a safe and confidential manner.

In addition to the aforementioned hotlines, there are other crisis lines specifically aimed at youth that you can contact. The TrevorLifeline, TrevorChat and TrevorText are a few of these services that provide help for kids and young adults struggling with eating disorders, relationship issues, bullying, sexual orientation, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. These services are free and confidential. Using these services will help your child feel heard and understood, no matter the problem they are facing.

2. Take your child to the emergency room

Two years after leading pediatric organizations and the US surgeon general declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health, many young people still need help. They are stuck in hospital emergency departments for days or weeks awaiting an open treatment bed; cycle in and out of psychiatric hospitals; contemplate, attempt, or complete suicide; face drug overdoses; and struggle to remain in school.

Children and youth in crisis may be sent home if they are not immediately at risk for harm to themselves or others, but the escalation of their behavior could continue unless something is done to prevent it from happening. Having a written crisis plan helps ensure that your child has the right help when they need it most.

Communities should also provide resources for emergency department staff to recognize when a child or youth has a mental health crisis. This includes training doctors in pediatric mental health and providing mobile crisis teams to reach kids at schools, physicians’ offices, and homes.

3. Ask for help from a trusted adult

In some situations, what a teen needs is not just help but also a supportive community. Unfortunately, many young people in crisis do not have this support system, with millions of them dealing every day with alcoholic or substance-abusing parents; peers who use drugs, vape or drink; traumatic or large scale events such as natural disasters, physical/sexual abuse or witness to violence at school or on the streets; and a family system that is overwhelmed by their own personal difficulties.

This is why it is important to have a trusted adult that youth can turn to for help and guidance. A person who is able to listen without judgement, and who will not label them as crazy or weak and instead help them focus on ways to make things better. Ideally this is an adult who is able to connect them with professionals who can provide additional support. This might be a teacher or guidance counsellor, a coach, religious leader, or even a Kids Help Phone counsellor.

4. Encourage your child to talk to someone

While it may be difficult to tell when your child is in a mental health crisis, it’s important to encourage them to talk to someone. This could include their family doctor, therapist or another trusted adult.

Having a trusted support system can help young people understand what they are experiencing and that it is normal to feel this way, especially during times of traumatic events. It can also help them identify and address their challenges early on and develop coping skills to manage their emotions.

If you are concerned that a youth is in a mental health crisis, contact their primary care physician or local mobile response and stabilization services (MRSS). If they are at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. Otherwise, a MRSS specialist can help by talking with the young person to evaluate their safety and provide emotional support and crisis intervention. Call or text MRSS at 1-800-969-HELP (4357), day and night, including holidays.