Youth in Crisis

If your child’s life is in immediate danger, call 911 or go to the emergency room right away. Ask if there is a children’s crisis team, who are trained to help in these situations.

There’s no single reason why youth are struggling so much more than generations past. But a perfect storm of factors contributes to their increasing need for support:

1. Suicide

Among youth, suicide is a growing crisis. While the rate of suicides among teens is lower than adults, suicide has increased dramatically in recent years. Kids who have access to lethal means, or have a history of mental health disorders, are at greater risk. Kids who have good problem-solving skills and strong connections to family, friends and community are at lower risk.

There are warning signs of suicide, including sudden changes in a young person’s personality, relationships or behavior. Parents, teachers and peers are often the best observers of these changes. These can include withdrawal from normal activities, giving away personal belongings, talk of death and/or suicide, depression or sleeping all the time. Those who use drugs and alcohol to escape their distress also may be at higher risk of suicide.

2. Abuse

Many teenagers face mental health crises due to the trauma and difficulties of life. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as emotional abuse, bullying, physical and sexual assault or having a parent with a substance use disorder put teens at risk of a crisis.

Violence is also common among youth in crisis. It can include gang violence, intimate partner violence (sexual, emotional and sometimes physical) or gender-based violence which is often experienced by girls through early/forced marriages and rape. This can result in serious mental, social and emotional damage. Co-occurrence of mental health and substance use disorders is also a major issue for youth in crisis and needs to be taken into account when developing care plans. The good news is that treatment can help.

3. Mental Health Issues

From structural racism to pandemic isolation, a host of factors is contributing to the rise in mental health challenges among children and teens. A 2021 surgeon general’s report cites that, as of that year, a significant percentage of teenagers reported struggling with mental health issues or suicidal thoughts and actions.

Mental illness involves significant changes in emotion, thinking or behavior that cause distress and interfere with social, work or family activities. It is a medical condition just like heart disease or diabetes and should be treated as such.

Pediatricians are uniquely positioned to destigmatize mental health care for kids and help them access services. They also build long-term relationships with parents and kids that can have a positive impact on mental health. This includes ensuring that kids have access to affordable, high-quality healthcare and support for their families.

4. Drugs

There are many indicators of drug abuse in teens – mood swings, a sudden drop in performance at school or work, new friends, different appearance, secretive behaviours, financial issues and more. But it’s important to remember that some of these uncharacteristic behaviours may also indicate other problems like depression, anxiety or family issues.

Teens with drug abuse problems face a number of challenges including poor academic performances, health-related issues, relationship difficulties and involvement in the criminal justice system. They’re also more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors that lead to STIs and HIV, as well as to develop addiction. Often, these problems are compounded by mental health issues like depression and anxiety. It’s important to address these issues in a timely fashion. The good news is, there’s help out there for teens struggling with drug abuse.

5. Alcohol

Teens are often at risk of abusing alcohol because of poor choices they make, as well as the influence of their friends. They may drink as a way of fitting in at parties, or to deal with stress and anxiety from school work, family problems, or mental health issues like depression.

Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which makes it easier for kids to engage in risky behaviors and say or do things they later regret. This can lead to injuries, including serious head trauma and broken bones, and sexual assault. It can also cause problems at school, such as higher rates of absences and poor grades.

Parents can help their children avoid drinking problems by encouraging healthy relationships and activities, such as team sports and clubs. They can also get support from an outside source, like a counselor or coach.