Kitsap offers new youth mobile crisis outreach program

If a youth is preoccupied with self-harm or is having mental health struggles triggered by stress at home or school help is on the way.

Mental health experts can now travel right to the juvenile having issues to assist in getting connected to community services, under a new service offered by Kitsap Mental Health Services.

A youth mobile crisis outreach program began this month, which brings mental health personnel to their doors. The service is for those under age 18 and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout Kitsap County. The mobile unit consists of a mental health professional and a certified outreach worker.

“The team will make necessary referrals then continue to follow-up with the youth and/or family daily up to two weeks until they can achieve what we are calling a ‘warm handoff’ — that’s a transfer to an adequate treatment resource,” said Dr. James B. Hughes, chief medical officer at Kitsap Mental Health Services.

Normally, it can take a family months to get a child an appointment with a mental health provider, but the mobile team is able to cut through bureaucratic red tape, Hughes said.

Promptly arranging appointments greatly increases the chances a youth will actually attend them and receive treatment, county mental health officials said. Research shows when a primary care doctor arranges a mental health appointment youths only will make the appointment 20 percent of the time. However, when an intervention team, like the new mobile team, makes a referral appointments skyrocket to more than 90 percent, the mental health agency said.

The mobile unit, funded by state Medicaid and federal monies, can be summoned to a variety of circumstances. “The most important one is if a child has started to act out, starting cutting behavior, or is stating that they are unsafe in some way that the family is not able to manage the situation. That is a good time to reach out and call the crisis line,” Hughes said. In such cases, the parents may also just want to consult the team to ensure they are properly handling the situation, he added.

Other typical scenarios center on stress related to school.

“There is academic pressure that kids feel very acutely,” Hughes said. In addition, mental health issues can be triggered by bullying. “Bullying is certainly something we are paying attention to because it’s hard to be with the child every moment to make sure they are safe.

“When kids come home from school they can express their feelings through behaviors when they don’t have the words or the emotional maturity to share those feelings in any other way. They often express those feelings to the people they trust the most, which is the family unit,” he said.

Substance and alcohol abuse issues are in the background of many mental health calls. The mobile team has specialists available to address such issues, Hughes said. The mobile team draws up a crisis plan, but it can change if the mental health crisis escalates — the team can get the child to an emergency room or to an inpatient unit, he added.

What types of situations warrant a call to the new mobile outreach team is left to the discretion of the family, the medical officer said. “The family knows best about the level of the crisis. They also know the situation may not be dangerous or emergent at the moment but it will very likely become that in the next few hours. So, when the family makes that phone call the crisis team will be dispatched,” Hughes said.

The mobile team does not provide mental health or medical treatment in the field. Emergency calls that require medical attention — for example when the adolescent has overdosed or has injured themselves — should go through 911.

The youth mobile crisis outreach team can be contacted 24/7 by calling 988 or the regional crisis line at 888-910-0416.