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Number of youth crisis calls increasing in Tennessee

April 29, 2010

UDPATE – ABC24 Eyewitness News broadcast a story about this issue April 29. Watch the story at

Calls for help for children experiencing psychiatric emergencies went up in Tennessee in 2009 and have increased by 20 percent since the economic downturn began in 2007, according to Youth Villages, the nonprofit organization that operates the statewide crisis program for children.

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.

Youth Villages Specialized Crisis Services received 9,527 calls in fiscal year 2009, up from 7,933 in 2007. Calls were up 10 percent overall in fiscal year 2009, which ran from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009. Call volume continues to be high, said Carla Babb, program director. Click here for the full 2009 report.

The Youth Villages program tracks calls throughout the state. In 2009, calls were up 9 percent in Nashville and Middle Tennessee; 16 percent in Knoxville; 18.5 percent in Southeast Tennessee; 19 percent in rural West Tennessee; and 10 percent in Memphis.

Tennessee began providing statewide crisis services for children through Youth Villages in 2003. More than 80 Youth Villages crisis counselors work from 14 offices and satellite locations throughout Tennessee. They respond when children under age 18 experience psychiatric emergencies, meaning they display severe emotional and behavioral problems, are suicidal or homicidal or so severely aggressive they are at risk of harming themselves or others. Youth Villages’ crisis counselors evaluate the child and refer the child and family to appropriate help.

“When parents are struggling to maintain housing and keep food on the table, they may not see changes in their children’s mental or behavioral health that can lead to crisis.” — Carla Babb, Youth Villages crisis program director.

Although call volume can be influenced by many factors, Babb said, the jump in volume mirrors the period of economic downturn in the United States and in Tennessee. The unemployment rate in Tennessee is 10.7 percent, but it is even higher in many Tennessee counties.

“People are using the crisis lines more to get help for children,” Babb said. While reasons for the call increases can vary from county to county, Babb said that Youth Villages’ counselors are seeing families who are under extra pressure because of the recession.

“When parents are struggling to maintain housing and keep food on the table, they may not see changes in their children’s mental or behavioral health that can lead to crisis,” she said. Some providers of services to children have decreased staff and closed offices, making help less available in some areas.

“A family may have to drive farther to see a counselor or wait longer for an appointment,” she said. “When parents lose their jobs, the family may lose access to routine health care for a period of time until other coverage can be arranged. A parent is distracted, a youth is overwhelmed and during this transition time services can be disrupted or changed. This is when youth can be more vulnerable to acting out their stress in destructive ways.”

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