Over the next several weeks, The Cheshire Herald will run a series of columns, courtesy of State Representative Liz Linehan (D-103) regarding this issue of mental health among children and teens.
This is the second installment in my Children’s Mental Health Series in partnership with The Herald. Last week, we discussed the warning signs of mental health issues in children, and how to determine if your child should be evaluated. While there were many warning signs listed, it’s fair to say that any sudden change in behavior may mean your child should be evaluated by a pediatrician or mental health professional. You may not be completely sure of what is normal, age-appropriate behavior, but it’s always safer to err on the side of caution, and ask a trusted professional to talk to your child.
But what do you do if this has gone beyond warning signs, to a situation where you feel your child may be in danger? If your child is actively harming themself, having suicidal thoughts, or planning to hurt others, these should be considered a crisis, and immediate intervention is warranted.
Connecticut has partnered with the United Way for Mobile Crisis intervention and the Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Service (EMPS). This is a free 24-hour, 7-days-a-week service to have your child immediately evaluated by a mental health professional. If calling by cell phone, 2-1-1 can also be reached toll-free at (800) 203-1234. Press 1, and then press 1 again, to be connected to the Youth EMPS.
What should you expect after calling 2-1-1? A social worker or other mental health professional will arrive within 45 minutes most times, and come to your home discreetly in their own vehicle, unless an ambulance is needed or a 911 phone call is made. The extensively-trained social worker will speak directly with the child and family to assess any immediate risk, and then make recommendations to the parent for further evaluation, treatment, or other options.
I cannot stress how valuable this service is for any child or family who needs help. In Connecticut, “the caller determines the crisis,” which means there is never a reason for you to be turned down for help. There is no shame in having the Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Service team come to your home. Every professional on the team would rather you call than not. If you feel you should call, then call. Trust your gut. Do not have any concerns about overreacting, placing any burdens on others by calling, or fear of any stigma associated with calling for the service. The service is confidential, it is not listed in the police blotter, and there is no fee. This service is available for exactly this reason: to help a child and family in crisis.
Suicidal thoughts and expressions of hopelessness, or any self-harm are clearly an emergency. But there may also be times when your child just can’t calm down, or perhaps their behavior is uncontrollable, or they’re suffering panic attacks, or maybe you’re having trouble even getting them out of bed that day due to their incredible sadness or anxiety. All these are reasons you may decide to call 2-1-1.
Remember that calling a professional is helpful not only to your child, but also to you, the parent. Most of us will have moments when parenting is overwhelming, and having a child with a mental illness or behavioral issue compounds that feeling. A fresh perspective from a professional is beneficial, and allowing someone to assess your child objectively may put you on the path forward to healing for all.
Calling 2-1-1 and EMPS is great for those in-the-moment needs. Should you realize that the situation is stable, but you believe your child should be seen quickly, there are other options as well. Enhanced Care Centers in the area will see your child quickly — in as little as two hours, two days, or two weeks, depending on how acute the situation is. Three such places in our immediate area include The Child Guidance Center in Meriden, Wellmore in Waterbury, and Wheeler Clinic with offices around the state, including Waterbury and Plainville. Each of these places have information and phone numbers listed on the Internet, and are available for initial triage, assessment, and evaluation, as well as outpatient and family therapy, in-home therapy, and even intensive daily after-school programs known as IOPs. These Enhanced Care Clinics can help you from the initial assessment all the way through intensive therapy if you choose, and will get you and your child in to see someone on a timeline that is right for your situation.
These are very good places to start when you have concerns that your child is suffering. EMPS, 2-1-1, and Enhanced Care Clinics have a proven track record of support that rely on a team of highly trained professionals who use evidence-based, trauma-informed practices. Best of all, they’re available to you today. Please do not wait to ask for help.
Now that you have information on how to find your child professional support outside the home, next week we will focus on how to support your child inside the home by actively making it a safer place to be. A word of caution: next week’s column will have a “trigger warning” whereby we alert you of talk surrounding self-harm methods like cutting, discussion of suicide, and more. A heavy subject indeed, but one that is incredibly important, and vital to keeping our children safe.
As always, I wish for you, your child, and your whole family to find peace. By reading this column, and arming yourself with all available options, you are well on your way.