Crisis, noun: A time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger. Support, verb: To give assistance to; enable to function or act.
Here’s a common thread I notice running through our conversations lately: the holidays are are a particularly challenging time of year for families parenting teens with mental health needs. And this stress can add up and require a solid and immediate response to a scary situation: experiencing a mental health crisis.
Take a deep breath, settle for a moment. You’re right; this is REALLY hard. And there are tremendous needs in the moment we realize our child is having a mental health crisis. AND-families can’t do crisis alone. Human beings are uniquely equipped with millions of neural pathways that are designed to seek out, make, and keep regular, frequent, and multiple connections with other humans, and they’re needed most in times of crisis.
I am often one of the first calls parents make when a situation develops into a crisis, and I feel it’s immensely important for parents to have an immediate and effective set of responses if crisis intervention is needed. Grab a favorite hot beverage and read on. Or, print this handy list out to have on hand as a best-friend hug.
- Why is my Teenager having a mental health crisis?
As parents know, teens lead varied and busy lives, which brings them in contact with all sorts of potential stress. Some identified reasons that can create a crisis are: academic stress, failing a test, a medical illness with debilitating or recent side effects, a break-up, bullying, the sudden death of a loved one, or a combination of several stressors. For teens living with a mental health diagnosis, resiliency in the face of stress is often low, and a pile-up of even just one or two of these issues can escalate into a crisis. An eating disorder is a mental health diagnosis with swift and severe physical health consequences; combined symptoms can create a mental health and medical health emergency.There’s also the possibility of an anti-depressant, anti-anxiety or mood stabilizer medication, over time, having decreased effectiveness. The use of substances (street drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol) can trigger disordered thoughts that escalate into a crisis.
- How will I know if my teen is having a mental health crisis?
The most profound and severe indication is if your son or daughter discloses suicidal thoughts, a plan for how they would suicide, or they have been stockpiling implements that could end their life. Self destructive coping strategies, like cutting, burning, excessive picking, and excessive isolating could warrant an emergency response. Sometimes a teen escalates abusive or aggressive behavior on others, animals, or property.
- A non-emergency response to a mental health crisis:
- De-escalate in your home if you are able to: Listen, Show empathy, Agree with, and Partner with (LEAP). And, hear this:
It’s OK if it’s not available to you right now to offer this to your child.
If you know this about yourself, Say: “I’m here for you, I’m going to get help.” Other essential responses:
- Contact your local crisis hotline number. Have it in an easily accessible location. You have teenagers. If you are calm enough, make the call with your teen present and receive crisis intervention right away.
- If your city or county has one, call their Mobile Outreach Safety Team. This is a resource provided by a collaboration between law enforcement and county mental health to travel to an individual and provide de-escalation and mental health response services. Post this number somewhere easy to find. You have teenagers.
- If you believe your child needs a psychological evaluation, inpatient mental health hospitals will conduct evaluations on-site and then tell you whether or not they advise an inpatient stay. If you go this route, bring essentials for a stay and a wait time at the facility.
- Call your child’s pediatrician, therapist, or psychiatrist and ask if they have any same-day appointments or might be available to talk over the phone and give some advice and support(most likely that would be a doctor’s medical assistant or your child’s therapist).
- Ask a friend, relative, or co parent to come over and help you. Your safety and the safety of others will greatly impact your child’s severity and intensity of this experience, parental support is essential. If you are unable to do the above, regardless of whether or not this appears to be an emergency, follow the emergency procedures as calmly as possible.
An emergency response to a mental health crisis:
- Call 911 and tell the 911 dispatch professional your child is having a mental health crisis. They will ask you questions and, at the same time, send an officer to your location. The officer then becomes the person responsible for determining the best course of action, so remember you will be turning the situation over to them.
- If you and your teen are calm enough, transport them to the Emergency Room, where the hospital is equipped with mental health crisis support. Again, these professionals will determine the next best step.
Parents are just as vulnerable to a mental health crisis as their child.
Above all, don’t wait if you are concerned. You can follow many of the non-emergency responses at any time. If you are concerned that your child might be heading towards a mental health crisis, reach out to local therapists, school counselors, church communities, or your child’s pediatrician, as these are all people and places that can tell you where to go if you need referrals, and have lots of resources to create a preventive safety plan and take preventive actions.
Have you been here? Share with me how you handled it and who or what was most helpful. And remember, I’m parenting right alongside you.