Mental health emergencies discussed
“It’s important to ask [if a person is having suicidal thoughts],” said therapist Devona Siron. “Eighty percent of people who commit suicide talk about it.”
Siron, along with Kristen Helm, who is also a therapist at the Washington County Mental Health Center, which has a contract with Hillcrest Family Services, gave a presentation on Thursday night at the Washington Free Public Library.
The goal of the presentation was to let people know what to do if someone they know is going through a mental health crisis, Siron and Helm said. Also, they spoke about what resources for mental health care are available in Washington County.
“What we hope you’ll be able to take away from this presentation tonight is that you’ll be able to identify when help is needed for someone,” Siron said. “Know how to respond and become familiar with the types of help available and how to access these resources.”
There are several signs that family and friends may see in a person who is going through a mental health issue or crisis, Siron said. Some of those signs include: being irritable, loss of appetite, worry, despair, and changes in functioning.
“What it looks like for one person having a crisis is completely different from what it looks like for someone else,” Siron said.
Usually a mental health crisis involves fear and can affect anyone at any time, Siron said. It could be caused by the loss of a loved one, a lost relationship, losing a job, or even positive changes in someone’s life, such as the addition of a new family member.
In order to help someone dealing with this, there a couple of things you shouldn’t do, Siron said. Those things include: not getting angry or acting alarmed; using guilt or telling the person, “don’t think like that”; don’t try to fix the problem yourself; don’t blame yourself; and don’t promise secrecy.
You can do a couple of things to help a person who is going through a mental health crisis, Siron said. One is ask gently if that person is having suicidal thoughts. Two, ask when was the last time he or she had a suicidal thought; and three, ask what you can do to help.
After a person says he or she is going through a crisis Helm said there are a couple of different levels of care available.
The first level of treatment would be outpatient mental health treatment, which usually includes counseling with a therapist, Helm said. If medication management services are needed, then that person would be referred to a psychiatrist.
Washington County has a community mental health center on Lexington Boulevard provided through a contract with Hillcrest Family Services, Helm said. It provides therapy to any resident in Washington County Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment.
The second level of care available would be to use the emergency room (ER) for urgent care, Helm said. While at the ER that person would receive an emergency assessment to see what type of treatment he or she may need. The doctor will assess that person’s safety, determine the treatment, and will determine the level of care the person needs.
There aren’t any psychiatrists on staff at the Washington County Hospital but the hospital has reached out to Hillcrest Family Services for a pilot program within the last month, Helm said.
“If someone comes into the ER that may need an evaluation, they dispatch one of us to the ER to provide that assistance,” Helm said.
If the doctor says he or she needs a psychiatric care facility, then the ER will begin calling around to see where a bed is available; it could take days to find an empty bed in Iowa, Helm said. Meanwhile, the person with the mental health crisis is waiting in the ER.
Another option would be to go before a judge to ask for a mental health committal, Helm said. In order to obtain a mental health committal a legal document requesting a judge for this has to be filed at the clerk of court’s office. Two signatures are required along with a statement about why you are concerned about this person’s well-being.
The judge will look over the criteria for a mental health committal under Iowa Code 229.1 to see if the person fits that need, Helm said. Some of the criteria for a committal include: the person must have a mental illness or a history of mental illness, be likely to physically injure himself or herself, and is likely to injure himself or herself emotionally.
Once the judge signs off on a mental health committal, the local police department or sheriff’s deputies are dispatched bring that person in.
“A committal is not an easy fix,” Helm said.
Unlike the past, where someone would stay in a mental health center for a long period of time, the person is typically not in the hospital for a long period of time, Helm said.
Hillcrest Family Services is looking into opening a crisis home with 24-hour crisis beds available for those who need assistance for a short period of time, Helm said. They are hoping to have this established with the other counties they service, which includes Henry and Louisa counties. The crisis home may not be located in Washington County.