Community mental health meets Northern Michiganders where they’re at with mobile crisis intervention

Help is just a phone call away.This article is part of MI Mental Health, a new series highlighting the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan and its community mental health (CMH) agency members. 

Every mental health crisis is different. So, it makes sense that services rendered to those experiencing a mental health crisis accommodate their unique individual needs. While many associate a mental crisis with suicide, self-harm, or thoughts of injuring others, the range of overwhelming situations can include catastrophic life events such as the death of a loved one, disruptions to daily life like the loss of a job, and intense personal distress or depression brought on by unexpected events like a global pandemic. Essentially, a crisis is self-defined by the individual and can vary greatly from person to person, day to day.

The Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Authority (NLCMHA) recognizes its region’s need for crisis care — and that some situations warrant immediate attention outside of the confines of the mental health facility. For those who simply need someone to talk to in times of crisis, NLCMHA offers a 24/7 toll-free line, 833-295-0616, which is available at no charge. In addition, Its mobile crisis intervention services reach across a six-county area: Crawford, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Missaukee, Roscommon, and Wexford counties.  

“One fantastic part about NLCMHA being a six-county organization is that crisis workers across the six counties are able to back one another up to provide 24/7 coverage even in the face of illness such as we have experienced in the pandemic,” says Stacey Kaminski, NLCMHA Crisis Services operation manager.

NLCMHA Crisis Therapist Amanda Clements shares tips on using the tablet to dispatch the mobile crisis team with C.O. Dale Suiter and Cpl. Katie Tessner.In addition, NLCMHA has distributed tablets to local law enforcement that let them dispatch the mobile crisis team to situations that call for mental health intervention of police or county sheriff’s departments. 

The NLCMHA Mobile Crisis Intervention team – including master’s and bachelor’s level clinicians – command a fleet of vehicles that allows them to respond to crisis situations  off-site as quickly as possible. They go to homes, schools, hospitals, office buildings, jails, and other community settings where individuals may experience mental health crises.

Stacey Kaminski, NLCMHA Crisis Services operation managerNLCMHA has provided mobile crisis services for adults and children since 2016. Over the past year, December 1, 2021 to November 30, 2022, they assisted 5,742 people – 4,959 adults and 782 children – with mobile crisis services throughout the geographic region. By comparison, its mobile crisis team served 4,681 in 2020-2021, 3,288 in 2019-2020, 3,572 in 2018-2019, and 3,451 in 2017-2018  –  an ever increasing upward tick in these much needed services.

“The ultimate goal is to assist those in crisis and work side by side with them,” Kaminski says.

After the initial interaction, the crisis team assists with providing follow-up resources like the location of food pantries or shelters as well as helping individuals schedule appointments for services such as substance use disorder treatment, counseling, or primary physician care.

F.A.S.T. help for children and youth

NLCMHA's FAST program helps families with children.Mental health challenges know no age limit. The number of children and teenagers experiencing emotional distress across the country is growing at an alarming rate. According to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) study, between 2016 and 2020, the number of children ages 3 and 17 diagnosed with anxiety grew 29% and those with depression by 27%. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that in 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-14 and 25-34 and among the top nine leading causes of death for people ages 10-64 in the U.S.

To deal with this rise in youth mental crisis, NLCMHA introduced its Family Assessment and Safety Team, F.A.S.T., in 2017. These teams are specially equipped to provide care for families with children up through age 20. They make at-home interventions that help children and families resolve issues and de-escalate situations in a more familiar environment. When a mobile crisis team is dispatched to handle a child or family situation, a peer support person travels with the licensed clinicians to help in any way possible.

“Peers are individuals with lived experience that can share those experiences and work with individuals, side by side, to advocate, encourage and promote recovery,” Kaminski says.

F.A.S.T.’s enhanced mobile crisis services include initial stabilization of the situation, development of a recovery plan, and follow-up care for up to 90 days. This allows for solution-focused, short-term care until individuals are linked to a provider for ongoing care.

“The immediate crisis may have ended but it is just a small part of the journey in mental health,” Kaminski says. “Moving towards recovery and feeling well looks different for everyone. Our teams at NLCMHA are there to assist the individual in getting to that place one step at a time.”

Dianna Stampfler has been writing professionally since high school and is the president of Promote Michigan.

Photos courtesy Northern Lakes CMH Authority