Youth in Crisis

youth in crisis

Youth in crisis often have a number of symptoms that can include a lack of self-care and healthy coping skills, running away from home or engaging in risky sexual behaviors. Teenagers in crisis may also have suicidal thoughts or be using drugs or alcohol.

Youth mental health has been in crisis for years, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating these issues. Identifying when your teenager is in distress can help you intervene.

Identifying a Youth in Crisis

During adolescence, many teens experience some level of crisis. This is normal for this age group as they navigate new experiences, test their boundaries, and seek independence from their parents. But some teens are experiencing a more serious emotional or behavioral crisis than others.

Some youth may be facing a mental health crisis due to anxiety, trauma or substance abuse. This is a time of need that requires specialized treatment and support services.

Others are at risk due to the effects of armed conflict and poverty. This often denies young people the opportunity to become economically independent, causing them to become dependent on their families. The resulting lack of economic mobility pushes some to take dangerous journeys in search for better opportunities.

States are working to improve their crisis response services for children, youth and their families to meet this need. Some of these efforts include ensuring access to timely mental health and substance use services, providing peer support, and promoting community engagement.

Assessing a Youth in Crisis

A youth in crisis needs to be assessed by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. This assessment will include a clinical interview and psychometric tests. It will also include discussion with the teenager’s family members and caregivers.

Teens often experience emotional or mental crises, as they are navigating new experiences and testing their limits. This can lead to risk-taking behaviors, an increased focus on peer relationships and exploration of sexuality.

When a youth in crisis is not treated, it can impact the entire family. Having a clear discharge plan is crucial to ensure safety for the young person and their family. This includes providing a connection to intensive care coordination services after leaving the facility. This will help the family find the resources they need to manage the crisis in their home and community. It will also provide support and advocacy for the teenager. Creating a space for caregivers to share their concerns and fears is important as well.

Stabilizing a Youth in Crisis

Youth in crisis often experience the highest rates of mental health challenges and are more likely to be hospitalized for these conditions compared to adults. To help address the issue, many states are exploring innovative ways to meet the unique developmental, social and clinical needs of young people in crisis.

In one example, a Maryland program provides mobile response and stabilization services to children and teens in their homes and community locations. Its services include crisis support, telehealth consultation and in-home stabilization. This approach can help reduce the need for hospitalization, as it enables families to connect with treatment services and supports them as they stabilize. In addition, the program includes a team of specialists who can work with children and teens to develop a personalized plan that will address their specific needs. The program also works with parents to make sure they have the skills they need to continue the care at home. For instance, it offers a training program that helps parents to de-escalate their child during an episode of crisis.

Providing Treatment for a Youth in Crisis

Youth are both victims and a key component in crisis response. Their energy and ability to mobilize themselves and other sections of society should be channelled towards reconstruction and development, rather than being used as a source of instability and violence.

States should ensure that youth in crisis are connected to a treatment plan and services. This can be done by integrating and aligning crisis services, including crisis receiving and stabilization facilities, with family welfare and juvenile justice systems to streamline connection to care.

One example of this is Nationwide Children’s Psychiatric Stabilization Unit (YCSU), a non-hospital, alternative psychiatric intervention to inpatient hospitalization. YCSU has grown over the years to meet the needs of youth in crisis and to become an important part of its behavioral health system. The unit is funded through Medicaid using either FFS or capitated payments. YCSU is also connected to community services that support families post-discharge. This includes home visiting and intensive wraparound services.