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Identifying the Cause

March 3, 2010

It’s a typical day for triage counselor Melissa Burgess, as she answers the Youth Villages Specialized Crisis Services triage lines during her shift for the Middle and West Tennessee regions.

Triage specialist Melissa Burgess goes through a case file in the Youth Villages Memphis office. Burgess receives crisis calls and determines an appropriate response.

She is one of 14 triage counselors answering the phones any day of the week for a 24/7 program that responds to children having a mental health crisis in the community. On this particular day, she gets a call from a school regarding a child who is expressing thoughts of suicide. Melissa is able to speak with the caller to determine if the child has a plan and any means to harm herself. These are just a few of the details triage gets in order to determine the appropriate response to a crisis call. After further investigation, Melissa determines the situation warrants a face-to-face assessment to get more details and arrange appropriate services and safety plans.

Colleen Lynch, SCS crisis responder, is dispatched to intervene in the crisis. Through meetings with the child and school officials, she learns the child’s suicidal ideation is partially related to being bullied at school.

“You have to find out the root causes for the crisis. You have to listen to the children and keep digging to find out.” — Carla Babb, Youth Villages director of specialized crisis services.

More than 5.7 million youth nationwide are estimated to be involved in bullying as a bully, a target of bullying or both. The intentional act of causing harm to others through verbal harassment, physical assault, coercion and manipulation, bullying is done in an attempt to coerce others by fear or threat.

“A recent national survey of students in grades 6-10 reported 13 percent had bullied others, 11 percent reported being a victim of bullying, and 6 percent reported being bullied and also bullying others,” said Andrea McCarter, clinical program supervisor for Youth Villages’ Specialized Crisis Services. “It’s an issue we’re responding to in schools. Long-term effects of bullying include behavior problems, depression, suicide, anxiety and an increased risk of participating in criminal activity.”

Triage specialist Letica Campbell, far right, reads exerpts of a crisis call during a crisis team consultation. Youth Villages’ Specialized Crisis Services works with communities and schools to respond to myriad situations involving psychiatric emergencies. Listening to Campbell are, left to right, Jennifer Wood, Andrea McCarter, Ashley Johnson and Rita Eastmond.

The scenario mentioned above is only one example of the many crisis responses of Youth Villages’ Specialized Crisis Services.

“We respond to many different psychiatric emergencies at schools,” said Carla Babb, director of SCS for Youth Villages. “Schools have very specific needs regarding crisis interventions because of the challenges and stressors presented when a child with a mental illness tries to maintain stability in a very structured environment.”

SCS counselors assess situations through meeting with teachers to get a better understanding of the triggers that led to the crisis. Sometimes, big stressors include problems in peer groups, bullying, problems at home and academic stressors. SCS counselors work closely with the adults involved in the child’s life to look at the whole puzzle of what the child is experiencing in the school setting and at home that may be causing the crisis in the school.

“You have to find out the root causes for the crisis. You have to listen to the children and keep digging to find out,” Babb said.

Last year, Youth Villages’ Specialized Crisis Services responded to 9,527 crisis calls both through phone and face-to-face assessment. This is an increase from last year, when SCS responded to 8,624 crisis calls.

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