It was a few days before the holidays shifted into high gear, and in a conference room at Catholic Community Services, a room of counselors and parents were planning the week ahead.
Who would be on call over the weekend? Who was available to follow up with those kids whose lead counselor would be on vacation? And what, in a moment of levity, was the theme for the group’s end-of-year potluck?
This is the Youth Mobile Crisis Intervention team, a group of mental health providers whose job is to work with children and teenagers who call the Southwest Washington Crisis Line, or whose families or caregivers call on their behalf. Counselors with trained parent peers, called “wellness coaches,” work with families for up to seven days to address their immediate needs.
The team reviews a broad range of potential sources of stress in a family’s life. They look at access to therapy and medication, and discuss availability of food and safe housing. Where families need help, the team helps provide information about community resources while offering emotional support.
Brook Vejo, who oversees the team, said the main mission is to ensure teenagers in a mental health crisis don’t wind up in the emergency room, freeing up resources while saving families additional trauma and major medical bills.
If they went to the hospital, “They would sit and languish there for 10 hours,” Vejo said.
And while teenagers at high risk of hurting themselves still sometimes end up in the hospital, Vejo said the team is usually able to prevent that from happening. The crisis line received 51 calls about teenagers in October, and the Youth Mobilization Crisis Team responded in person to 32 of those calls. No one ended up in the hospital.
“We have a really high success rate,” Vejo said.
The services are free for anyone 18 or younger who lives in Clark County. Beacon Health Services, which funds the program, describes the Youth Mobile Crisis Intervention team as a “holistic” approach to understanding teenagers’ mental health.
“They spend a lot of time making sure that they’re connected to a counselor,” Vejo said. “They might work with a primary care doctor. There’s a lot of texting and coordination that happens with the family and the youth.”
Public health data suggest that an increasing number of teenagers are experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. According to the Washington Healthy Youth Survey, 42 percent of Clark County seniors reported experiencing depression in 2018, up from 27 percent a decade prior.
More also reported suicidal ideation, with 22 percent of seniors considering suicide, up from 13 percent in 2008.
“They’re lonely, isolated,” said Georgia Brier, a counselor with the team. “Every single time we go out to a home, they finally feel heard.”
Flo Williams is a wellness coach with the program who has worked with Catholic Community Services with 19 years. As a trained parent, Williams joins counselors on calls to work with families who may not know how to navigate their child’s mental health struggles.
“Some moms, they’re all alone,” Williams said. “They’re isolated.”
It’s an area where Williams has plenty of experience. Williams raised two children with serious mental health problems. Nothing could have prepared her for how difficult it would be.
As a wellness coach, she’s able to share her hands on experience with parents in similar positions.
“I get it, as a parent,” she said. “It’s just affirming that. “It’s just offering hope.”