How to Help a Troubled Teen in Crisis

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A teen experiencing a psychiatric emergency or exhibiting out-of-control behavior requires immediate intervention to ensure their safety and sometimes the safety of others. 

When Is Hospitalization Needed?

The criteria for psychiatric hospitalization is generally defined as "danger to self or others," such as a teen threatening suicide or going after someone else with a weapon. Bizarre behavior that comes on suddenly such as hallucinations, manic episodes or uncontrollable rage may also require hospitalization to stabilize the teen and determine the factors leading up to the crisis.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Criteria for Hospitalization

In most states, if a teen meets the criteria they can be held in a psychiatric hospital, against their will if necessary, usually for a maximum of 72 hours.

Getting Your Teen Hospitalized in an Emergency

Psychiatric hospitals provide emergency assessments 24 hours a day. It is best to call ahead and let them know you're coming, but if the situation dictates going to the hospital immediately, then do so. Once there you may have to wait but staff can assist in keeping your teen safe.

If you don't have a psychiatric hospital in your community, a regular emergency room will work just as well. Medical professionals can help you get the right care for your teen and lessen the danger of the situation.

In some communities, if you're unable to get your teen to the hospital, a mobile evaluation unit can be dispatched. Call the hospital and describe what is going on with your teen. If you have a dire emergency, call the police and they will provide transportation to the hospital if needed.

What happens next is based on decisions made by the intake staff upon completion of the emergency evaluation. Your teen will either be hospitalized immediately or assistance will be provided in accessing other options that can provide longer-term treatment.

Other Considerations

  • If your teen is admitted to the hospital, all financial arrangements should be discussed clearly with you. Hospitals are expensive, but most will work with you to make sure your teen gets the help needed.
  • There are two types of psychiatric hospitals, private and public. In most cases, the public ones are accessed through community mental health services. In an emergency, go to the one closest to you. If it's necessary to transfer your teen to another hospital due to insurance or other payment reasons they can arrange it, by ambulance if necessary.
  • The primary purpose of psychiatric hospitals is to stabilize a crisis situation. Therefore, the process moves quickly to transition the teen to a lower level of care in order to deal more in-depth with the issues that led up to the crisis.

Give Your Teen This Potentially Life-Saving Information

Teens can also find help through a service called the Crisis Text Line, a texting crisis service founded especially for teens, but available for anyone. To use Crisis Text Line, simply send a text message to 741741 and a live, trained counselor will respond shortly. The service is completely anonymous and helps people get from an emotional peak to a calm place so they can make rational and informed decisions. The counselors give referrals for further help if needed too.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Civil Commitment and the Mental Health Care Continuum: Historical Trends and Principles for Law and Practice. Rockville, MD: Office of the Chief Medical Officer, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

By Kathryn Rudlin, LCSW
Kathyrn Rudlin, LCSW, a writer and therapist in California specializes in counseling and education for teenagers with mothers who are emotionally disconnected.