Seattle Children’s works to combat adolescent mental health crisis

Emergency departments across the state are filling up with people in a mental health crisis and rates of teen suicide attempts are on the rise.

SEATTLE — Washington hospital officials are sounding the alarm about the mental health crisis and how it’s affecting children as they fill emergency departments across the state.

Seattle Children’s was hit by a tidal wave of patients in crisis in the emergency department.

“We’re definitely seeing higher rates of suicide. So, suicide attempts and suicidal ideation across the board,” said Dr. Elaine Twohy of the Seattle Children’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine.

The lack of outpatient facilities and health care providers nationwide means that the emergency department is the only option for many families.

Nationally, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts increased significantly in 2021, according to the Washington Department of Health. For teenage girls, the rate rose by about 51%. For adolescents, the rate was an increase of approximately 4%.

“The range of things has been really deteriorating over the past decade and, combined with a pandemic, it hasn’t really been good for anyone’s mental health. Plus there isn’t a workforce large enough to meet the need. I think it really affected all of us,” said Dr. Alisha Thompson, Clinical Director. of Pediatric Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine in Seattle.

Seattle Children has developed a Behavioral Health Crisis Care Clinic whose goal is to provide resources to families, and hopefully, prevent them from needing emergency care.

Twohy founded the clinic.

“The Crisis Care Clinic was built to provide families with the kind of access to timely care, and to really prepare families with the evidence-based care they need for their mental health crisis,” she said.

But the need for care far outweighs the ability to find outpatient solutions for many families.

“The truth is, we didn’t really have the ability to meet the need. We didn’t have enough psychologists, psychiatrists, and masters-level therapists to meet the need at first, and then we saw such a dramatic rise that we couldn’t keep up,” Thompson said.

Tohey told KING 5 that the goal is to continue growing the clinic and proving more resources for families.

“Hopefully, over time, we can grow our clinic and other similar types of services to support people before the crisis reaches the level of attempted suicide, or a real kind of emergency crisis. We’re not there yet. And I think, you know, with additional resources, We are able to grow these types of support throughout the community,” she said.

For parents concerned about their children’s mental health, Twohy suggests seeking resources before it becomes a crisis situation.

“In a crisis, you really want to act fast and get emergency help. But the goal is to act early as soon as you are concerned, to start having these conversations and to connect your children with mental health treatment if necessary.”

She suggests getting on waiting lists with mental health facilities, calling county helplines, and calling your child’s school for resources, but don’t avoid emergency care if necessary.

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