Youth in Crisis

Youth are often the victims of crisis events. But they are also key to reconstruction, peace-building, and the long-term development of society.

Biological factors, life events, and unhealthy coping skills can contribute to the mental health challenges faced by teenagers. It’s important to watch for signs that a teen is in crisis.

What is a Crisis?

A crisis is a situation that is life-threatening or requires immediate attention, such as a severe emotional disturbance, suicide attempt, a runaway child, domestic violence, accidental injury or a medical emergency. People’s reactions to these types of events and situations are very different. They may depend on their unique biographical experiences and their ego strengths.

A variety of stressors can cause or exacerbate mental health crises, from structural racism and racial justice reckoning to pandemic isolation. Other concerns can include hunger, a lack of housing and job loss. A 2021 report by the CDC indicated that 45% of high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless for two weeks or more, and that girls and LGBTQ youth were more likely to have these feelings. They also were more likely to have thoughts of or attempts at suicide. These concerns are all part of a mental health crisis among youth. This crisis is the focus of much concern by many individuals, organizations and community groups, including JCCA.

Identifying a Youth in a Crisis

Adolescents often need specialized behavioral health services to manage their crises effectively. Therapists can provide adolescents with a safe, supportive environment to discuss their problems and learn positive coping skills that can help them cope in healthy ways.

Biological factors, like hormone changes during adolescence, can also contribute to mental health issues in teens. Social stigma and a lack of support can also increase the risk of teen crisis, especially for marginalized youths such as BIPOC and LGBTQ+ teens.

Home-based crisis intervention programs are an alternative to hospitalization for children and adolescents experiencing severe emotional distress. This model provides intensive in-home care over four to six weeks and is typically referred by emergency rooms, school professionals or community organizations.

Identifying a Family in a Crisis

Family crises are usually triggered by an event or situation that disrupts the family’s goals, security or emotional ties. The death of a family member, financial difficulties, violent confrontations between parents and divorce are all examples of crises that can lead to family disintegration. Crises can also be caused by a sudden or chronic loss of family resources, such as the repossession of a home, eviction from a rent house or the failure to meet basic family expenses.

Other factors that can trigger a crisis include:

Previous studies have shown that family crisis is associated with negative youth development outcomes. The current study added to this knowledge base by examining the relationship between family crisis, perceived poor parental supervision and joint family activities in adolescents. Results revealed that the association between family crisis and PYD is indirect. Adolescents that experience a family crisis have less parental supervision, leading to them being out of the house more and engaging in unsupervised leisure activities with friends.

Providing Support to a Youth in a Crisis

Youth in crisis often need to feel empowered and supported. They also need to understand that they can seek help for difficult emotions like depression and anxiety. This can be done by identifying the underlying cause of their feelings, practicing ways to manage their emotions, connecting with peers and supportive adults, being mindful of their use of social media and technology, and learning to recognize and ask for help.

It is important for staff at crisis centers to be trauma-informed. They should always listen with empathy, be mindful of non-verbal communication, and provide personalized care. This can be done by interviewing the youth and their family/caregivers separately, creating safety plans, submitting referrals for step-down care, holding family therapy sessions, and more.

Communities must work to promote mental health for all youth, including those at highest risk. For example, community members should support programs that encourage teens to play outdoors, practice relaxation techniques, and connect with their peers. They can also work to address structural factors that can contribute to mental health challenges such as poverty and racism.