Warning Signs of a Teenage Mental Health Crisis

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When a teen has a devastating panic attack or is rushed to the emergency room after a suicide attempt, the family is forced to recognize what’s going on and take action. But it’s not always possible to head off such an event. In some cases, a teenage mental health crisis is the first time that parents learn what’s really going on with their child, particularly when teens hide their emotions due to shame or fear of their family’s reaction.

What Is a Teenage Crisis?

A teenage mental health crisis, sometimes referred to as a breakdown, is not a medical diagnosis. A teenage crisis or teen breakdown indicates a severe mental health episode during which a teen can no longer function or perform day-to-day activities.

Teenage crisis examples include episodes brought on by significant stressors, such as trauma or loss, or excessive pressure within the school, family, or work environment. An adolescent crisis is typically an indication of an underlying mental health condition.

How to Recognize a Teenage Mental Health Crisis

Symptoms of a serious teen mental health episode vary from person to person and from situation to situation. Some symptoms develop over a long period; others appear very quickly. Some of these symptoms, which should always be taken seriously, include:

  • Inability to function in day-to-day activities
  • Sleeping excessively or not being able to sleep at all
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or speaking coherently
  • Auditory or visual hallucinations, including ringing sounds or seeing lights
  • Anxiety that interferes with basic functioning
  • Non-responsiveness
  • Delusions, including feeling indestructible or beyond human
  • Psychosis, or complete detachment from reality
  • Self-harm, suicidality, or suicide attempt.

If a teen experiences these symptoms, it is important for parents or caregivers to seek immediate medical care to prevent more severe consequences, including loss of life. That may mean a visit to a therapist or a mental health emergency room visit.

The Importance of Early Intervention in Teen Mental Health  

During the adolescent years, the brain undergoes extensive changes, making teens more vulnerable to mental illness. Hence, if severe symptoms are allowed to develop, the episode will have a greater impact on long-term social, behavioral, emotional, and intellectual development. In addition, a severe mental health episode often requires hospitalization, increasing the level of trauma surrounding the episode.

More treatment options are available in the early stages of a teenage mental health crisis. Early intervention can decrease the number and severity of future mental health episodes. Moreover, because half of all mental health disorders start by age 14, teens are in a high risk group, and early intervention can make all the difference in terms of their future. Education, awareness, and early intervention in a mental health episode can provide a higher quality of life for your teen now and into the future.

How to Head Off a Teenage Mental Health Crisis

Warning signs prior to an adolescent crisis can easily be overlooked by parents and caregivers, teachers, and other adults. That’s because they may look like typical teen behavior. Moreover, mental health stigma can keep teens from talking about their feelings. And stigma can prevent parents from seeking care even when they know something is wrong. They may not seek care right away, because they’re afraid their family or their child will be seen differently. If they do vocalize concerns to friends or relativesmm they may be discouraged from seeking help and assured that this is typical teen behavior. So they let themselves be convinced that everything’s okay.

But diagnosing and treating teen mental health issues early increases the success of treatment, decreases the frequency and severity of future episodes, and reduces the trauma surrounding the episode. For these reasons and more, it is essential to address teen mental health issues as soon as possible, before a crisis or breakdown can occur.

The key to heading off a teenage crisis is noticing when symptoms last more than a few weeks or months. Pay attention to whether the symptoms become more severe over time. For parents, the most important thing is to remember to follow your gut. When parents can avoid getting caught up in mental health stigma or denial and seek treatment early for their teen, it can be life changing or even life saving for their children.

Seeking Appropriate Treatment for Teen Mental Health

In summary, it’s extremely important to access teenage support services before an adolescent mental health crisis. Early intervention increases the treatment options for teens, as well as the success of treatment. It can also lessen the quantity and severity of future mental health episodes. In addition, the appropriate level of mental healthcare can support a teen’s brain function during this crucial developmental period.

Contact Newport Academy at 877-859-5865 to learn more about our approach to supporting teens in crisis. Our treatment approach goes beyond the adolescent crisis to help young people and families find thriving and positive coping skills. Get started today.


Int J Ment Health Syst. 2020; 14: 23.

PNAS. 2020 Feb;117(6):3248–3253.