by Dana Markey
Program Manager, NAMI Child and Adolescent Action Center
When youth experience a psychiatric crisis in your school or community,
- Who is involved?
- What services and supports exist for these youth and their families and for those who respond to them?
- How do you ensure these youth receive the help they need to prevent crises in the future?
For communities across the country, these questions can be difficult to answer. Oftentimes, the process for effectively addressing the needs of youth experiencing a psychiatric crisis is ambiguous at best-school professionals, law enforcement officers, mental health providers and most of all, families struggle to do the right thing but do not necessarily know how to work together to make sure the right thing happens.
Instead of receiving help, far too many of these youth are landing in the juvenile justice system. This happens because there is a lack of crisis intervention services in schools and communities. All too often, the opportunity to intervene with these youth is lost-resulting in poor outcomes.
The Value of Community Partnerships
Fortunately, there is another way. With effective community partnerships, communities can responsibly support youth living with mental illness and their families. Community partnerships allow us all to think big and to hope for cost-effective answers to difficult questions.
In this spirit of hope, we at NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, are working with communities in Illinois, Louisiana and Utah to expand and deepen the scope of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) to focus on the needs of youth living with mental illness and their families. CIT is a model program that brings together community partners to make sure that individuals with mental illness who are at risk for encounters with law enforcement and the justice system are directed to appropriate mental health services and supports.
CIT for Youth provides training to law enforcement officers on preventing a mental health crisis and de-escalating a crisis when it occurs. However, CIT for Youth is more than just a training program. It is a dynamic partnership of families, law enforcement officers, school personnel, mental health providers and other community leaders committed to ensuring youth living with mental illness are referred to appropriate mental health services and supports rather than thrust into the courts and juvenile justice system.
With these partnerships in place, we can identify youth living with mental illness before they get entangled with the juvenile justice system, before they fail or drop out of school and before they develop a more difficult-to-treat, chronic condition.
NAMI plans to share everything we learn from this project this summer with the release of a step-by-step, hands-on workbook that will include real-life stories and materials from these communities. The goal of this project and workbook is to promote the replication of CIT for Youth in communities across the country.
Become a Partner
Serious mental illness impacts large numbers of our youth. Recent research indicates that 13 percent of youth aged 8-15 live with mental illness. This figure jumps to 21 percent in youth aged 13-18. Instead of receiving help for their conditions, far too many youth living with mental illness are landing in the juvenile justice system. In working on this guide, I am reminded of the need for solutions to address this problem as well as the value of community partnerships. We are each a part of our community and we have the opportunity to join and support others in offering help and hope to our youth.