Teen Mental Health Crisis Guide For Parents

Occasionally, a parent is faced with a teen mental health crisis. It’s not an easy experience for anyone, but being prepared ahead of time can help minimize the tension and chaos. This is especially true if you have a child with a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

A teen mental health crisis or emergency is any experience in which your teen is likely to harm themselves or harm someone else. It might also be when you are concerned about your teen’s immediate safety. Perhaps you see your teen exhibiting uncontrollable behavior or they may appear to be experiencing hallucinations or delusions. If you find yourself extremely concerned about your teen’s well being, it’s likely best to get support right away.

Recognizing a Teen Mental Health Crisis

Below are a few signs that your teen may need immediate help:

  • aggressive behavior
  • rapid mood swings
  • suicidal thoughts and statement reflecting possible suicidal behavior
  • not eating or binge eating behavior
  • making violent threats to others
  • confused thinking or irrational thoughts
  • talking very rapidly or even non-stop talking
  • severe agitation which may show up as pacing, paranoia, or fast talking
  • seeming as though your teen is losing touch with reality
  • isolating themselves from friends and family and refusing to come out of their room
  • rapid weight loss of gain
  • experiencing an extreme level of energy (staying up all night)
  • experiencing a very low level of energy (sleeping all the time)

Managing a Mental Health Crisis

Your teen may experience any one of these on more than one occasion. However, parents should use their intuition and follow their gut. If they feel that their teen is experiencing an emergency (regardless of the signs you’re seeing), then take your teen to the nearest emergency room. If the situation calls for it, you may need to call 911.

If you’re unsure about whether to call 911, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you feel your child is in immediate danger and might harm themselves or someone else?
  • Can you handle this situation on your own or do you think you need help?
  • If you need help, what kind of help do you need (from a doctor, psychiatrist, hospital, etc)?

If you feel that you need emergency assistance, keep in mind that many communities provide teen mental health crisis services, including a mental health crisis line to call. If you do decide to call 911 or a crisis line, be sure to let them know that your teen is experiencing a mental health emergency so that they can provide you with the right type of assistance. Remember that you may need to ask your teen some questions (and that’s okay!) such as “Do you feel suicidal?” or “Do you feel you will hurt him?”

If you decide not to call 911 during a teen mental health crisis, be sure to call your teen’s mental health provider immediately to let them know of the situation.

Preventing Teen Mental Health Crisis

For the future, to prevent crisis situations or to at least minimize the challenges when they arise, parents may want to create a written safety plan with their teen. This can include the following information:

  • Contact Information – This would include your address, home phone number, cell number, and your employer, if you have one. Of course, if your teen doesn’t live with you then include here the address and contact phone numbers for your teen’s residence. This is an important piece to write down for yourself as well as your teen. When you are in an emergency situation, you won’t have to try to remember your contact details. Having your details written out can be handy.
  • Medical Information – Include here the contact information for your teen’s doctor and psychiatrist, if they have one. You might also want to include your preferred hospital, your second choice hospital, and their addresses. Along these lines, it would be important to write down the medications your teen is taking, if any, as well as any allergies your teen has. Having this information all together on one sheet can make seeking help easier. Furthermore, you may also want to include your insurance information. This could include your insurance carrier, account number, and the name under which the insurance might be listed.
  • Support Information – Lastly, include in the safety plan, information that is relevant to providing your teen with the best support, as well as information that might support you too! For instance, a safety plan could include:
    • your teen’s warning signs such as talking fast, feeling paranoid, movement that is very slowed down, excessive alcohol or drug use, and lack of sleep
    • what your friends and family can say or do that are particularly soothing, calming and reassuring for your teen when they see warning signs
    • what your friends and family should do when your teen is in crisis, such as take away the car keys, lock up anything dangerous, such as alcohol or medications.
    • what emergency staff should do for your teen such as talk slowly, explain things, or observe your teen’s personal space
    • why your teen will feel life is worth living, such as their family, future, and friends

These are a few suggestions for providing support during a teen mental health crisis. It is not an easy experiencing, but knowing what to do ahead of time can help your teen feel supported through the process.