Helping Teens in Crisis: A Parent’s Guide
At Oasis, we understand how challenging it can be to watch your teenager go through a crisis and we're here to help. Our team specializes in supporting teens in crisis and we'll work with you to identify the signs, understand when to seek professional help, and find the best treatment options to help your teenager and your family through this difficult time.
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As a parent, it can be overwhelming when your teenager is facing a crisis. They may be struggling with intense emotions, harmful behaviors, or destructive thoughts that are causing difficulties in their life. It's important to recognize that a crisis can be a sign of a deeper underlying issue and to seek professional help in order to address it. In this article, we'll explore the challenges of being a teenager in crisis and provide guidance on how you can support your teenager and get them the help they need. We'll also discuss how our treatment program can help your entire family heal and find a path forward.
What Does It Mean to Be a Teen in Crisis?
It can be difficult to describe what it feels like to be a teenager in crisis because every teenager's experience is unique. These teens experience intense emotions, behaviors, or thoughts that cause significant difficulties in their life. Common emotions and experiences that teenagers in crisis may have include:
- Feeling overwhelmed and out of control: A crisis can make a teenager feel like they have lost control of their life and are unable to cope with the challenges they are facing.
- Experiencing intense emotions: A crisis can bring up intense emotions, such as fear, sadness, anger, or hopelessness.
- Struggling with harmful behaviors: A teenager in crisis may engage in behaviors that are harmful to themselves or others, such as substance abuse or self-harm.
- Having destructive thoughts: A crisis can also bring up destructive thoughts, such as suicidal thoughts, that can be very distressing for the teenager and their family.
It is important to remember that every teenager is different and that their experience of a crisis will be unique to them. As a parent, it is important to help your teenager know they are not alone. A teen in crisis can often be a sign of a deeper mental health issue. Work with a mental health professional to identify, understand, and treat the underlying issues of your teen’s struggles.
Types of Mental / Behavioral Health Crises Teens
There are many different types of mental and behavioral health crises that teenagers may experience. Common teen crises include:
- Depression: This is a common mental health disorder that can cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in activities that your teenager used to enjoy.
- Anxiety: This is a type of mental health disorder that causes intense feelings of worry and fear. It can be difficult for teenagers to control their anxiety, which can lead to a crisis.
- Trauma: This can take many forms, including sexual assault, bullying, accidents, loss or even prolonged or complicated medical procedures. As a result of experiencing trauma, a teenager may struggle with flashbacks, avoidance of certain situations or activities, and difficulty functioning in daily life.
- Substance abuse: This is when a teenager begins to use drugs or alcohol in a way that is harmful to their physical or mental health. It can lead to a crisis if the teenager becomes addicted and Greatly interferes with their ability to function in their daily life.
- Self-harm: This is when a teenager intentionally causes harm to themselves, such as cutting or burning their skin. It is often a way for teenagers to cope with difficult emotions, but it can lead to a crisis if it becomes a regular behavior.
- Suicidal thoughts: This is when a teenager is having thoughts of harming or killing themselves. It is a serious crisis that requires immediate attention.
- Anger issues: This is when a teenager has difficulty managing their anger, which can lead to outbursts and conflicts with others.
- Family conflict: If your teenager is unable to resolve conflicts with family members, or has difficulty following family rules it can lead to ongoing tension and stress. If unresolved it can become a crisis that affects the whole family.
- Lying and manipulation: This can be a crisis if a teenager is habitually dishonest and manipulates others in order to get what they want.
- Risky behaviors: This can be a crisis if a teenager engages in behaviors that are dangerous to themselves or others, such as reckless driving or drug use.
- Impulsivity: This can be a crisis if kids make impulsive decisions without thinking through the consequences, which can lead to negative outcomes.
- Behavioral addictions: This can be a crisis if a teenager becomes addicted to a behavior, such as gambling or shopping, and is unable to control their urges.
- Technology addiction: This can be a crisis if a teenager becomes addicted to their phone, gaming, or social media and is unable to limit their usage.
- Running away: This can be a crisis if a teenager runs away from home without letting their parents know, as it can put them in dangerous situations.
- Sexual Promiscuity: This can be a crisis when a teenager engages in online or in-person risky sexual behaviors.
- Other behavioral struggles: There are many other behavioral struggles that teenagers may experience that can lead to a crisis. We’re not able to list every type of teenage crisis here but if you feel like your teen is experiencing a crisis, you are not alone.
Many mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, can manifest as a crisis during the teenage years. It is important to address the crisis and seek professional help in order to identify and treat any underlying mental health issues.
For example, a teenager who is struggling with depression may experience a crisis in the form of suicidal thoughts or a complete inability to function in their daily life. Similarly, a teenager with an anxiety disorder may experience a crisis in the form of a panic attack or an inability to go to school or participate in normal activities because of their anxiety.
With the right support and treatment, it is possible for a teenager to work through a crisis and develop the skills and coping mechanisms needed to manage their mental health in the long term.
Risk Factors & Causes of a Teen Crisis
There are various causes and risk factors that can contribute to a teenager experiencing a crisis, and can include a combination of genetic, environmental, biological, and social factors.
- Genetic factors: Often the mental, emotional, and behavioral struggles that can lead to a crisis may run in families, meaning that kids may be at a higher risk of experiencing a crisis if a parent or other family member has or had a similar disorder.
- Environmental factors: Your teenager's environment can also play a role in their risk of experiencing a crisis. Trauma, domestic violence, loss of a parent, or experiencing prolonged family conflict increase a teenager's risk of experiencing a crisis.
- Biological factors: Hormonal changes during adolescence can affect a teenager's emotional regulation and can contribute to the development of a crisis.
- Life events: Some life events like the death of a loved one, divorce, change of schools or moving can also contribute to a teen crisis.
- Social factors: Social stigma (such as being a member of a marginalized or disadvantaged group, such as LGBTQ+ youth, BIPOC youth, etc), bullying, social isolation and lack of support can be risk factors that can contribute to American teens experiencing a crisis. Social dynamics in school, family, and friends all influence the emotional and mental state of a young person.
- Lack of self-care & healthy coping skills: neglecting personal care, having inconsistent sleep patterns, poor dietary habits, and lack of physical activity can all contribute to a teenager's crisis.
- Mental health disorders: Teenagers who have a diagnosed mental health problem, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD, are at a higher risk of experiencing a crisis as symptoms may worsen during this time.
- Substance abuse: The use of drugs or alcohol can also put teenagers at a higher risk of experiencing a crisis, as substance abuse can contribute to mental health issues and harmful behaviors.
- Technology overuse: Prolonged use of technology and social media, addiction to phones and gaming, may also interfere with social skill development and provide an avenue to escape problems rather than working on them, increasing the risk of crisis in teens.
How Common Are Teen Crises?
Most parents know to expect a certain level of angst or rebelliousness as part of a teen’s natural identity development. Unfortunately, it is becoming more common for today’s teens to also experience a true mental, emotional, or behavioral crisis.
- An estimated 49.5% of adolescents experience a mental disorder at some point in their teenage years and an estimated 22.2% had severe impairment.
- A 2021 CDC study found that 44.2% of high school students had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a 44% increase since 2009.
- The same study found that 1 in 5 (19.9%) high school students had seriously considered attempting suicide, and 9.0% of them had attempted suicide.
- Anxiety disorders affect 31.9% of teens between 13 and 18 years old. And nearly half (48%) of all teens are concerned about experiencing social anxiety in transitioning back to “normal” life after the pandemic.
How can parents tell if what their child is experiencing is truly a crisis or if it’s just normal teenage behavior? Here are some things to look for.
How to Identify Teens in Crisis: Signs, Symptoms & Diagnosis
It can be difficult for parents to determine whether their child's behavior is normal adolescent development or if it's a sign of a deeper crisis. However, recognizing the signs of a crisis is crucial in order to provide the appropriate support and treatment. To help identify whether your child's struggles are a crisis, here are some things to look for:
Is This Just Normal Teenage Behavior?
Normal teenage behavior during adolescent development can vary widely among individuals, but there are some common patterns and changes that are typically seen during this stage of life. These can include:
- Experimentation with new behaviors, roles, and identities: Teens often explore different interests, social groups, and identities in order to figure out who they are and what they want to become.
- Increased independence and autonomy: Teens typically begin to push for more independence and autonomy as they prepare to leave childhood behind.
- Increased Moodiness: Hormonal changes during adolescence can cause teens to experience increased emotional volatility, which can result in mood swings and emotional outbursts.
- Risk-taking behaviors: Teens may engage in risk-taking behaviors as they learn to navigate new experiences and test their limits.
- Increased focus on peer relationships: Teens often prioritize their relationships with friends and peers over family connections.
- Exploration of sexuality: Teens start to explore their own sexuality, gender identity, relationships, and romantic connections.
Not all teens go through the same experiences and challenges during adolescence. And even if their experience is “typical” it doesn’t mean it is easy for anyone. Some teens face more difficulties than others, and it's important for parents to watch for warning signs of a more serious mental or emotional crisis.
Signs & Symptoms of Teens in Crisis
- Changes in appetite–rapid weight loss or gain
- Extreme disregard for personal health and hygiene
- Dramatic changes in sleep patterns either sleeping all the time or being unable to sleep (i.e. insomnia)
- Ongoing physical complaints without apparent causes (i.e. somatic symptoms)
- Escalating self-destructive behaviors
- Frequent thoughts about suicide / preoccupied with death
- Frequently or persistently feelings of worthlessness, feeling empty, or hopelessness about the future
- Frequently or persistently feels trapped or feels that there are no solutions
- Lack of a sense of purpose and meaning in life
- Poor emotional regulation:
- Rapid mood swings
- Frequent or uncontrollable crying
- Explosive anger/outbursts
- Verbal, emotional, or physical abuse within your household
- Low distress tolerance
- A technology addiction
- Habitual substance use/abuse
- Increased need for accommodations
- Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
- A sudden change of friends/peer groups - A sudden shift in a teenager's social circle, such as distancing themselves from previous positive friends and associating with negative individuals who have a detrimental influence and encourage negative behaviors
- Lack of a social support network
- The recent death of a friend or close relative
- Divorce and family issues
- Disengagement from school, or poor school performance
- Confused thinking or irrational thoughts, memory loss
- Increased or unnecessary risk-taking, particularly in activities that could lead to death
- Lost interest in passions and hobbies
How is a Teen’s Crisis Diagnosed?
Teen crises are often diagnosed by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed therapist. These professionals can conduct a thorough assessment to determine if a teenager is experiencing a crisis, and if so, what type of crisis it is, and what treatment options will be effective.
The assessment process typically begins with a clinical interview, during which the mental health professional will ask the teenager and their parents or caregivers about the teenager's symptoms, behavior, and history. The professional may also ask the teenager to complete self-report questionnaires or psychological tests to gather additional information.
It's also very important for the teenager, their family and the mental health professional to work together to find a tailored solution that works for them. This might include individual therapy, family therapy, medication, or a combination of these treatments.
Should You Seek Professional Help for Your Teen’s Crisis?
Yes! If your teenager is struggling with prolonged or severe distress, it's important to seek help as soon as possible. If you are feeling overwhelmed and not sure who to talk to, know that there are people who care and are willing to listen, and professionals who can help you work through the tough times.
As a parent, it can be hard to watch your teenager struggle with mental health or substance use challenges. But it's important to remember that the earlier you intervene, the better the chances of recovery will be. Early intervention means identifying the warning signs of a crisis and seeking help before it gets worse. It's natural to feel overwhelmed or unsure about how to help your child, but know that you are not alone and that seeking help is a sign of strength.
Imagine how much easier it would be for your teenager, and for your whole family if their struggles were addressed sooner rather than later. Early intervention can help your teenager receive appropriate care and treatment, and it can also prevent more serious symptoms from developing. It can also reduce the likelihood of problems in areas such as school, work, and relationships. Plus, it can help to alleviate the stress on you and other loved ones and may help to reduce medical costs in the long run. Remember that early intervention can lead to recovery, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Overall, you are investing in the well-being and mental health of your teenager to be able to overcome their pain, struggles, and crisis, allowing them to develop into adulthood in a healthy way.
Red Flags & Triggers to Look for That Your Teen Needs More immediate Help
When it comes to helping your child who is struggling, it can be challenging to understand the level of support they need. One way to determine the severity of their situation is to ask yourself the following questions:
- Is your child at risk of harming themselves or others?
- Are they experiencing a situation that could cause lasting harm to their physical or emotional well-being or future?
- Is your child's crisis impacting other members of your family?
- Are they starting to engage in negative coping mechanisms that will be difficult to overcome in the long run?
- Are their negative behaviors interfering with them performing their daily functions at home and in school?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it's important to seek professional help as soon as possible. A mental health professional can provide an evaluation and create a treatment plan that can help your child and your family.
Effects of Leaving a Mental Health Crisis Untreated
It is crucial for parents to address a teenager's crisis promptly and not let it go untreated. Delaying treatment for teens in crisis can have both short-term and long-term negative effects on their mental, physical and emotional well-being.
Short-term Effects of an Untreated Teenage Crisis
- Worsening of an existing mental health concern, such as depression or anxiety
- Instability in family & daily life, such as difficulty maintaining relationships or difficulties in school or work
- Sleep disruptions, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Decreased motivation and engagement in activities that the person previously enjoyed
- Poor academic performance
- Increased need for avoidance of certain situations or responsibilities
- Increased need for others to accommodate or assist them in their daily life.
Long-term Risks/Effects of an Untreated Teenage Crisis
- Chronic physical health issues, such as the increased risk of cardiovascular disease or a weakened immune system
- Increased risk of impaired or delayed identity development, as the person may have difficulty figuring out who they are and what they want in life.
- Increased risk of developing maladaptive, life-interfering, or harmful coping behaviors and habits, such as technology addictions or severe negative thinking.
- The an increased risk that other family members will develop serious problems, such as mental health disorders or low self-worth, as a result of the crisis.
- Irreparable damage to important and meaningful relationships and friendships in their life.
- Limitations on academic and future career opportunities, as a result of poor academic performance or difficulty completing school or training programs
- Higher risk of developing additional mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Increased risk of impaired or delayed emotional development.
If your teen is struggling with a crisis, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless, but it's important to remember that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope. With the right support, your teenager can not only recover from their crisis but gain the skills to truly thrive. The earlier they get help, the easier it will be for your teen to recover.
If your teenager is in crisis and you feel like you don't know what to do or where to turn. Please know that you are not alone in this. There are people who can help you and your family navigate this difficult time. Whether it's talking to a therapist, reaching out to a support group, or connecting with other families who have been through similar experiences, there are resources available to you.
Finding Help for Teens in Crisis
As a parent, you play a critical role in helping your teenager navigate a crisis. Here are some specific steps you can take to support them:
- Take care of yourself. Just as flight attendants instruct passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others, you need to take care of yourself first in order to be able to effectively support your teen. Make sure your basic life needs are met and that you have the support you need during this crisis such as family, friends or even a therapist or support group.
- Help them feel safe. Create an environment where they feel comfortable talking to you, and where they feel safe to express their emotions and struggles. Dr. Stephen Porges said, “Safety is treatment, and treatment is safety.” When you identify & minimize things they see as “threats,” it goes a long way toward helping them in their crisis.
- Strive for the “magic ratio.” Aim for having at least five positive interactions for every negative one with your teenager.
- Focus on the foundations of teen mental health. Ensure that they are getting enough sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
- Communicate openly and non-judgmentally with your teen about their struggles. Use Nonviolent Communication techniques such as making non-judgmental observations, identifying and empathizing with feelings, and being specific in making requests.
- Don't be afraid to ask hard questions. If your teenager is expressing distress or suicidal thoughts, it is important to have an open conversation about it and seek professional help immediately.
- Empower them. Help them build resilience and self-sufficiency by providing appropriate support, but not enabling harmful behaviors.
- Embrace humor, play, and distraction.
- Be patient and understanding of the process. Remember that healing takes time, and recovery is not a linear process.
- Work with a mental health care professional to understand your options and find the best course of action for your teen.
Remember that you are not alone and there is help available, and you and your family can get through this together.
Treatment Options for Teens in Crisis
When your teenager is going through a crisis, it can be overwhelming to navigate all the different treatment options available. To make the decision easier, it's helpful to understand the characteristics and who may benefit the most from each option. This can make it easier to determine which treatment option is the best fit for your teenager's unique needs and circumstances.
The appropriate treatment for each teenager can vary greatly, so it's important to work with a mental health professional to understand what is the best treatment option for your child.
Questions to Ask Mental Health Professionals and Treatment Programs
When searching for treatment options for a teenager in crisis, parents should ask the following questions to mental health professionals and treatment programs:
- What is the specific treatment approach used at the facility or practice?
- How does the program or treatment plan address my teenager's specific needs?
- What is the staff-to-patient ratio and what are the qualifications of the staff?
- What is the length of the treatment program and what are the expectations for my teenager's participation?
- How often will my teenager be seen by a therapist or psychiatrist and what is the frequency of therapy sessions?
- How will you ensure that my teenager is safe during their treatment?
- What is the plan for aftercare or continuing treatment once the program is completed?
- How does the facility or practice involve families in the treatment process?
- Is the facility or practitioner licensed or accredited by any relevant organizations?
- What is the coverage or availability of health insurance plans?
Finding the best treatment for your teenager requires a personalized approach and what works for one may not be the best for another. It's important to ask these questions and consult with a mental health professional to find the best fit for your teenager.
What Types of Therapy Work for Teens in Crisis?
There are several types of therapy that can be effective for teens in crisis, including (but not limited to):
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This type of therapy focuses on helping teens identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to their distress.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): This type of therapy is specifically designed for teens who struggle with intense emotions and self-harm behaviors. It involves a combination of individual therapy, and group skills training.
- Trauma-Focused Therapy / EMDR: For teens who have experienced traumatic events, such as physical or sexual abuse, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) and Eye-movement Rapid Desensitisation (EMDR) can be very effective. These therapeutic modalities focus on helping teens process and recover from traumatic experiences, and can be implemented in an individual or group setting
- Family therapy: For teens in crisis, working with the whole family can be very beneficial. Family therapy can help parents understand the behavior of their teenager, as well as work to improve communication and relationships within the family.
- Group therapy: Group therapy can be a helpful addition to individual therapy. Teens can benefit from talking with others who have similar problems and learning new coping strategies and social skills.
- Recreational therapy: It is a type of therapy that is particularly suited for teens that use recreation and challenging tasks to provide therapeutic insight and improve communication. It can be helpful for those who have difficulty expressing their thoughts and feelings verbally.
So which type of therapy does your teen need? Not all types of therapy work for all people, and each teenager's needs are unique. Please consult a mental health professional about your unique situation and for recommendations on which type of therapy would be best for your teen.
Why Choose a Program That Offers Crisis Stabilization, Comprehensive Mental Health Assessment & Residential Treatment
Choosing a therapeutic treatment program that offers a range of services, including mental health urgent care, crisis stabilization, comprehensive assessment, and residential treatment can provide several benefits for parents and teens in crisis.
- First, having mental health urgent care available ensures that your teenager gets the immediate support and care they need to stabilize their condition. Urgent care centers can provide a fast and effective response to mental health emergencies, providing a stabilizing environment for crisis intervention, assessment, and treatment.
- Crisis stabilization is also important as it helps a teenager to regain control of their emotions and manage the immediate impact of the crisis. Especially for teens who’ve felt “out of control” this is the first step towards effective treatment and recovery.
- One of the most important steps in getting your teen the help they need is making sure that they receive a comprehensive mental health assessment. This assessment not only ensures an accurate diagnosis of their condition but also provides important information about any underlying factors that may be contributing to the crisis. This understanding of the root causes allows for a treatment plan that is specifically tailored to them, addressing their unique needs and concerns, and increases the chances of a successful outcome.
A program like Oasis that offers accurate inpatient assessments can make a significant difference, not only in the effectiveness of treatment but also in reducing the length of treatment and bringing your child home to you sooner.
- Residential treatment centers provide comprehensive care and treatment in a safe, nurturing and controlled environment. This environment is crucial for empowering teens with the skills necessary to thrive, not only while in treatment but throughout their life.
Choosing a treatment program that offers a range of services can ensure that a teenager in crisis gets the appropriate and comprehensive care that they need to overcome their crisis and improve their overall mental health.
How Does Oasis Ascent Help Teens in Crisis?
Oasis Ascent is a mental health treatment program that is holistic and comprehensive. As a holistic treatment program, we look at each client as a whole and integrated person. We know that mental health is influenced by physical, social, intellectual & academic health, and even spiritual, and environmental health. To help your teenager through their crisis, we have to address all dimensions of wellness and areas of their well-being.
Many treatment programs provide great mental health assessments. Some programs focus primarily on empowering teens with needed social & emotional skills. And, other programs offer intensive therapy and do the deep work that is required for teens in crisis to heal and thrive throughout their lives. At Oasis, we don't just focus on one aspect of treatment, our comprehensive mental health treatment program that:
- Provides comprehensive assessments to understand the root causes of the crisis,
- empowers teenagers with the necessary skills to navigate their struggles
- and provides intensive therapy for deeper healing.
Our experienced professionals work with your teenager to ensure that they have all the tools they need not just to overcome their crisis, but also to thrive in the future.
We are dedicated to providing comprehensive and effective care, addressing all aspects of mental, emotional and physical well-being, to help your teenager return to a fulfilling and healthy life.
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Why Choose Oasis Ascent
When your teenager is going through a crisis, it can be a challenging and overwhelming experience for both you and your child. Finding the right treatment program is crucial in ensuring that your teenager receives the appropriate care and support needed to overcome their crisis and improve their overall mental health.
Oasis Ascent is a comprehensive mental health treatment program that takes a holistic approach to help teenagers in crisis. Our program provides accurate and comprehensive assessments, empowering teens with the skills needed to navigate their struggles, and providing intensive therapy for deeper healing. Our experienced professionals work with your teenager to ensure that they have all the tools they need not just to overcome their crisis, but also to thrive in the future.
We understand that every teenager is unique, which is why we tailor our treatment plan to each individual. Our focus is not just on treating the symptoms but understanding the root causes of the crisis and working towards long-term recovery and healing.
If you're looking for a comprehensive and effective treatment program for your teenager in crisis, Oasis Ascent is the best solution. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your teenager and your family.
Additional References & Mental Health Resources
- Navigating a Mental Health Crisis - NAMI
- Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory
- Crisis Text Line: Parents and teens can text "HOME" to 741-741 to connect with a trained counselor through the Crisis Text Line.
- The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) is available 24/7 for teens in crisis by dialing 988
- The Trevor Project, specifically for LGBTQ+ youth in crisis, can be reached at 866-488-7386 for immediate support.
About the Author
Brent Esplin, LMFT
Brent has spent his career of almost 20 years working with teens and their families in a variety of different settings including long and short-term residential treatment, acute care, and home based services. He has served in various leadership capacities over the years including clinical director, utilization review director, admissions/business development director, and executive director. Brent relates comfortably and professionally with families and teens alike. He finds great joy in guiding families out of crisis situations and into peaceful solutions.