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Youth Mobile Crisis Response Expansion

Tell me a bit about yourself.

Parth Patel, Youth Mobile Crisis Coordinator: I’m Parth and I’m the Youth Mobile Crisis Coordinator at CommUnity Crisis Services. I love being able to support youth in getting to a level of functioning before their crisis by providing validation, non-judgement, empathy, and empowerment. Being able to help youth better understand their emotions and explore their current worries is pretty rewarding, especially when they are feeling helpless. Supporting their parents afterwards to discuss next steps is also a highlight of my role. When I’m not crisis counseling youth, I love staying active by playing tennis, biking, and doing yoga. I also frequent FilmScene and my favorite local restaurants whenever possible. I discuss the importance of wellness strategies with clients all the time, so I put a lot of effort into maintaining my own wellness routine so that I’m at my best. 

Gabe Bullock, Youth Mobile Crisis Counselor: I’m Gabe, the new Youth Mobile Crisis Counselor. I’m originally from west Chicago before studying social work at the University of Iowa. I was connected with CommUnity while in college and started working right after graduation. I’ve had a couple different roles in the past two(ish) years, but I’ve settled into youth mental health. 

When did you start your current role with CommUnity?

PP: I stepped into the Youth Mobile Crisis Coordinator position in January 2022, and it was the most exciting transition I’ve made in my counseling career! I loved reflecting on the growth we’ve seen a year into the position. We’ve served so many clients and collaborated with wonderful support staff at the schools.   

GB: I started in YMCR in January of this year, about two months!

Can you tell me a bit about the need in the community?

PP: LGBTQ youth are being targeted by politicians in our state by discriminatory laws and the toll this takes on a young person’s mental health and feeling that they are not safe in their body is immense. In Mobile Crisis we are seeing an increase in youth that identify as trans, and we predict a continued increase in calls for this population. Parents have been reaching out a lot lately to have mobile crisis counselors come out and provide resources and family crisis mediation, and I’m so glad they are doing this. School and home calls have more than doubled in the last year as more community members are learning about this free, rapid resource. I’m super grateful for elementary schools and junior highs reaching out more this year, and high schools are remaining steady. We’ve also responded to some local schools for the first time this year, and it’s great to see new schools reach out for help. 

GB: Before I joined the team, Parth was being pulled into schools all over the county. The more he responded, the more calls we got. The need for mental health support is massive in Iowa, and we continue to get overlapping calls from schools in the area. Until we have so many counselors that we get bored at our desks, we’ll keep expanding.

We also see a disproportionately high percentage of LGBTQIA+ students. As the rights of certain students continue to be debated on a political stage, our need for more counselors will grow. 

What would you like students to know about YMCR?

PP: I want students to know that they get to define crisis. No need to overthink it; if you need support and call, we will honor this by joining you. When they are feeling overwhelmed by their situation and want to process their thoughts and feelings with someone, that’s the perfect time to ask a school staff member to call mobile crisis. We want to advocate for the students’ needs and learn more about what support and help would look like for them. YMCR is collaborative in nature, this means we will work towards goals together and never tell students what they have to do.  

GB: We want you to call! My coworkers and I are here to support you, and you deserve it. We get a lot of students who don’t want to call for fear their crises isn’t a ‘big enough deal’ but it is! If you’re struggling with something–no matter what it is–we’re here for it. Feeling isolated, hurt, unheard, out-of-control, or scared can come from anywhere and YMCR is here to help with any/all of it. 

What would you like parents to know about YMCR?

PP: Parents should know that when YMCR counselors respond, we automatically take the stance that parents are doing the best they can with the skills, supports, and resources they have.  At MCR we believe assessing the strengths of each family unit is crucial. We take our time when listening to some of the problems and needs and make an effort to collect a full understanding of complex family dynamics. I want family members to know that going to the ED or calling law enforcement is not their only option when their student is in a mental health crisis.   

GB: YMCR is a confidential service. Sometimes parents feel understandably apprehensive about their child having a conversion that they are not privy to, but it’s a big advantage for the Youth. YMCR can have conversations that students may not be comfortable having with their parents. YMCR always passes along our risk assessment, and we can make suggestions based on our conversation with the student. Sometimes a student needs the right person to talk to when they’re struggling with something. We’re also able to facilitate family conversations. 

What would you like schools to know about YMCR?

PP: I want school staff to know that we see them and all of the meaningful work they are doing to de-escalate crisis situations everyday. An additional intervention they can turn to when they are helping students is to call mobile crisis and give the student (and most likely a parent) the opportunity to work with someone new and outside of the district. Letting MCR come in and having staff step aside to take care of themselves can be great for staff retention and a burnout prevention strategy.  

GB: We don’t only deal with suicidal ideation. We will always respond to a dispatch, no matter the crisis. If a student is struggling socially or emotionally and could use additional support, YMCR is a great resource. Students may not feel comfortable disclosing certain information to school staff–no matter the strength of their relationship–and YMCR provides an additional opportunity for the student to process whatever they’re dealing with. 

Tell me about the trainings you have been offering lately?

PP: We’ve been offering both ASIST and QPR training to community members. I’ve helped facilitate 2 QPR trainings for some high school students who are passionate about mental health awareness and suicide prevention. I hope that local schools continue to reach out to have their staff trained in both of these. Both QPR and ASIST Trainings are for high school students as well as any professional including school staff that wants to learn some skills that’ll help them be more prepared to support someone when they are showing signs of mental health crisis. So honestly, these trainings are for senior and junior students interested in suicide prevention as well as any adults! 

Can you tell me a brief story about a contact that was impactful?

PP: I went out to a local elementary school recently and met with the most charming and sensitive student.  This student opened up about some past adversity and how it’s impacting them today. They also shared feelings related to some of the comments they hear from their peers that are causing them to feel like they don’t fit in. This student shared that they haven’t really talked about the things bothering them with anyone else, and they ended the call by telling a loved one about their traumatic experience for the first time. They showed courage and vulnerability during our contact, and it was so rewarding to be part of this conversation with their parent. These are the contacts that fill my heart and remind me that I’m in the right profession.  

GB: Often the calls that are most effective for the client are most gratifying for the counselor, too. Recently, I went to a school to see a student who’d been having emotional outbursts that often involved violence against staff. When school staff had tried working with this student, the student had responded with this same pattern of threats and acts of violence. As YMCR, I was able to provide the student a confidential space separate from school staff. The student disclosed a complex situation with their parents, and that they didn’t trust school staff not to prioritize their parents’ needs. The student got a much-needed vent, and an opportunity to process. We then made a plan, and I was able to pass along recommendations to both school staff and the student’s parents. In this case, I’d recommended putting more control in the student’s hands over their care. While following up with the family, we learned that after our initial contact, the parents had given the student several choices for their care and that the student had ended up choosing a therapist, and is now in therapy. I still feel over the moon at this outcome, and honored I could be part of the process.

What are you looking forward to?

PP: I’m looking forward to any new opportunities to help out the districts/schools we already serve. I love when a staff member emails or calls me to talk through a situation and see how we can help. These requests are the best, because I remind folks regularly that they can reach out to me for things outside of an acute crisis situation as well and I’ll do my best to help. I’m also looking forward to seeing Gabe continue to flourish in this role. He’s been such a team player and shows up to work ready to serve the community each and every day! 

GB: I’m looking forward to the team expanding. Our service provides efficient, effective care. Our person power is always growing, but so is the need for mental health care. 

What are some challenges you would like people to know about?

PP: A challenge I believe we experience is that because CommUnity is situated in Iowa City, there is a misconception that this service is only available for ICCSD, when in fact we respond to 11  districts (and some private schools) and make efforts to provide quality care to each of them. I want each of the districts to feel like they can utilize us when there is a student in crisis and to merge us into their internal mental health crisis protocol. Even though the counselors responding may not live in the rural community that the school is located in, we still take the same approach of meeting the student where they are at by considering their culture, local resources, their values, and remaining strength based. At the end of the day, students need connection, non-judgmental support, and validation. MCR will provide this no matter which district or community the student is in. MCR staff’s ability to remain adaptable and professional in our roles helps us collaborate with each and every referral source, and I hope to see more folks reach out in the future.           

GB: Hesitance to use the service is a big challenge we face. I’d like people to understand how low-barrier the service is for this reason. It’s free, confidential, no-commitment. Providers sometimes have apprehension before calling us, and I worry that’s for lack of understanding the service.

If you could leave our readers with one thought, what would you say?

PP: You are more than your thoughts and you are more than your current emotions. Reaching out for help can be really hard, however, please know that you do not have to suffer alone. We see each human as worthy of nonjudgmental crisis support, and we are always here for you every single day,  24/7 <3 

GB: If you’re having trouble dealing with something, it may help to talk to someone. 988 counselors are a great resource, but if you want someone in-person, we’re here. It doesn’t matter what the crisis is. If you’re struggling, it couldn’t hurt to call.