The Clark County Crisis Collaborative is set to host two Behavioral Health Town Halls over the next couple of weeks. The town halls will provide a platform for the community to speak about their experiences with the local crisis intervention system, how it is used, barriers to services and its effectiveness. The first of the two town halls will be focused toward adults using the crisis system and will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 28. The second will focus on youth and their families from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 5.
Kirstin Peterson is the community engagement coordinator for Beacon Health Options, a national organization responsible for behavioral crisis services for Clark, Skamania and Klickitat counties in Southwest Washington as well as Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Okanogan Counties in North Central Washington and Pierce County. Peterson said the upcoming town halls are a way for local crisis services to converse with the public about behavioral health intervention. The town hall will also provide the service professionals with crucial input about individual experiences with the system. Peterson hopes to use the information learned in the town hall to better support the community when it comes to crisis intervention.
In a normal year, the online town hall would instead be conducted in a focus group format where professionals meet with community members in small groups or one-on-one to learn about experiences with the system. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, crisis professionals decided to hold an online town hall format.
“We’re learning how to do this virtually just like everyone else,” Peterson said. “This is an experiment for us.”
While the town hall is a larger and more public format than a focus group conversation, Peterson said those participating in the town hall can remain anonymous if they choose to. Individuals will have the opportunity to speak up about their experience and introduce themselves if they wish.
Prior to the town halls, Beacon Health Options conducted a community survey on the same topic of experience surrounding the Behavioral Health Crisis System. The anonymous survey was completed by Southwest Washington community members, and the results will be used to “facilitate conversation” in the upcoming town halls. According to Peterson, Beacon also hopes to learn how they can better help the community though results. Peterson explained that Beacon learned many things from the survey, including users having difficulty using the crisis lines, responders having a “lack of community knowledge” and more. Peterson said this information is important because Beacon selects those who run the crisis lines and can make the experience better for those who use it.
“Having community response is really valuable in our ability to drive effective change,” Peterson said.
Peterson also mentioned that over a quarter of survey respondents were unaware of the local crisis response teams in the Southwest Washington Area. Along with hosting the crisis line, Clark County Crisis Services has both Youth Mobile Crisis Intervention (YMCI) and Adult Mobile Crisis Intervention (AMCI).
According to Beacon, YMCI is provided by Catholic Community Services and provides mobile crisis intervention services in Clark County for youth between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. every day of the year. The intervention service provides on-site, face-to-face response to a youth (under 18) experiencing a behavioral health crisis. Interventions are administered for the purpose of identifying, assessing, treating and stabilizing the situation and reducing immediate risk of danger to the youth or others. All youth and children residing in Clark County regardless of insurance status are eligible for YMCI services. AMCI, provided by Community Services Northwest, gives the same level of attention and service to adults (over 18) in Clark County from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Access to these services is available though the regional crisis line at (800) 626-8137.
“It’s really important to be able to pinpoint what an individual needs (during a crisis),” Peterson said. “And that’s why those who are trained like the crisis teams are really important because they’re really able to identify what the individual (in crisis) needs. A lot of times those individuals reach out to services that aren’t really equipped to help the same way a crisis team can.”
Getting the word out about these services is another goal for Beacon. Because the crisis line is available to anyone regardless of insurance coverage, services such as the YMCI and AMCI can help connect those in need with resources within the community. However, according to Peterson, the survey also gave Beacon input on the limited access to services in Washington state. Peterson explained that there are few behavioral health facilities in the state and even less that treat “co-occurring disorders.” An example of co-occurring disorders could be mental health and substance abuse. While often treated together, Peterson said the treatments for each are very different and the needs of each disorder are different as well.
Behavioral health therapy and crisis intervention are important to have because it helps community members that are struggling, Peterson explained. She also mentioned that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns surrounding it, community needs around behavioral health are “only expected to increase” as the weather gets colder. Throughout the Summer months, people were able to go for walks outside and get some Vitamin D from the sunshine. However, when days get shorter many people spend more time isolated and this can lead to an increase in Seasonal Affective Disorder and thus a need for services. Along with this, the normal factors such as addiction and depression are also in play. Peterson was quick to mention that if anyone is in need of help they should call the crisis intervention line at (800) 626-8137.
“(People running the line) are able to triage based on the needs of the caller. They are trained to be able to stabilize individuals,” Peterson said. “But if they feel like there’s a need for in person care, they can then refer people to care and community resources.”
As for community members that want to help, Peterson said the best way to get involved in training yourself in subjects such as mental health aid and intervention. Much like training yourself in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), training yourself in behavioral intervention is valuable knowledge to have.
“You never know when it’ll be useful,” Peterson said. “I’ve taken the training and I’ve found it helpful in more factors than just crisis intervention.”
Along with training in intervention, Peterson said becoming a peer and joining community groups such as the Family Youth System Roundtable is another way to get involved. The roundtable is a group of multiple people from local counties who work to make positive changes to the system and offer community input. Peterson also explained that reducing the stigma around mental health therapy is one of the easiest things every community member can do to help.
“Talking about it (helps),” Peterson said. “Not making it something that is embarrassing but owning your own behavioral health needs and telling people, ‘hey, you’re not the only one going through this.’”
For more information on Beacon Health Options and Washington Crisis Services visit wa.beaconhealthoptions.com.