May is Mental Health month and we recognize the struggle that many people go through daily when faced with mental illness. Approximately one in five youth ages 13 – 18 in the U.S. have a psychiatric or emotional disorder.
Many of these youth are also in crisis. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10 – 24, and mood disorders are the third most common cause for hospitalization of youth. When children and youth experience a mental health crisis parents, teachers, and caretakers are often not equipped with adequate resources to assist them, often involving law enforcement, or forcing them to seek care in emergency rooms or psychiatric hospitals. This can lead to a reliance on services that are ineffective, traumatic, and expensive. Availability of other options to respond to a crisis – such as mobile crisis intervention services – can reduce trauma on youth and strain on emergency rooms.
Mobile crisis intervention teams are clinically trained professionals who provide support, de-escalation, and mental health services to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis at home or in another community setting. These teams typically work closely with crisis hotlines, law enforcement or other emergency responders, and even hospital personnel. When effectively provided, these services can prevent harm by oneself or others and address the mental health crisis, decreasing a need for the child or youth to be hospitalized. Mobile crisis providers can be quickly deployed to locations that may not have nearby hospitals or urgent care centers. A best practice is to have a “crisis plan” in place for the child as part of the child’s care plan where providers, family or other caregivers know who to call in a crisis and to ensure someone familiar with the child can respond as needed. A crisis plan is developed by the person with a mental health condition and their support team and family. It is designed to prepare the person and their family during a crisis and mitigate potential harm. Mobile crisis intervention is a critical element of this plan. Crisis intervention services can help minimize physical harm when a parent or caretaker is unable to manage the youth’s behavior. The crisis team can take the necessary steps to ensure that the youth experiencing a crisis gets appropriate care and follow-up.
The Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC), which oversees California’s Mental Health Services Act, published a draft report, “Improving Services for California Children & Youth in Crisis,” which found that mobile crisis intervention teams can help children and youth receive the services they need.
The MHSOAC report recommends that a continuum of crisis intervention services designed to help youth and their caregivers at different stages and intensity of intervention are to be available throughout the state. The report further recommends the development of core crisis services that include mobile crisis services, intensive home-based services, in addition to 24/7 crisis hotlines, safety planning, and peer crisis support services. The report notes that while several counties in California are making progress towards building programs that incorporate some of these components, no county has successfully created the full continuum of services. The support and implementation of these evidence-based methods of reducing trauma for California youth and children are crucial to improving overall behavioral health. With repeat admission to the ER for mental health reasons accounting for 45 percent mental health ER use, it is crucial that more support is provided to children and their families. More attention must be paid to models of crisis services like mobile crisis intervention through teams that can reduce the pressure and cost of ER use for mental health issues. Without these critical services, youth and their families will continue to bear the burden of mental health crises in a system not equipped to help them.