Our current research and the experiences of our mental health professionals have established a significant level of youth mental health incidences among our youth. Particularly in a post-COVID world we have reached a crisis level of depression, anxiety, and threats of suicide.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), released a new report, National Guidelines for Child and Youth Behavioral Health Crisis Care, which describes the urgent need to improve crisis response services for children, youth, and families and provides guidance on how communities can address the existing gaps in care for youth.
SAMHSA’s guidelines recommend that youth in crisis from mental health and substance use disorders receive care in the least restrictive setting possible, and if it is safe, at home, and in the community. Whenever possible, hospitalizations and justice system involvement should be safely reduced or prevented.
As with adults, the guidelines recommend that crisis services for children and families ensure that youth and families have:
- Someone to Talk To: Crisis Call Centers, including the new national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, offering 24/7/365 access to counselors with specialized training to respond to youth and families
- Someone to Respond: Mobile Response Teams, to respond to crises at homes, schools and elsewhere in the community, keeping youth in their homes when safe to do so
- A Safe Place to Be: Crisis Receiving and Stabilization Services, including in-home services, and at crisis care facilities, emergency departments and hospital settings
For those of us who are working with students who have substance abuse issues and/or mental health deficits we struggle to find places to respond to these needs. We accept the reality that there needs to be places where professionals are available to our youth community. The idea of mobile response teams is an excellent one and crisis care facilities are much needed.
However, the availability of these services is at best limited. In more rural areas of our country they may even be non-existent. As we think about developing the services that are suggested we recognize that there is a great deal of work to do to establish facilities, train staff, set up systems where youth can be referred and maintain quality care for their needs. We also recognize the significant need for organizations and professionals to be trauma-informed in their training and their values for treatment and care.
I appreciate the work of SAMHSA but we desperately need more funding, structure, training and availability of services to meet the stated needs of our youth in crisis. I do hope there will be appropriations to follow these guidelines to support the work of helping our youth community. We should be doing all we can to preserve their future as well as the future of our nation. Meeting their mental health needs will be a significant step to provide hope and healing to their lives.