To address youth suicide, support mobile crisis services

In the recent Finding Hope series, the Monitor highlighted youth suicide as a surging crisis in New Hampshire. New Hampshire’s youth suicide rates are 50 percent higher than the national average, and they’re spiking. To the mother of a son with a serious and persistent mental illness, this is devastating. I applaud the Monitor for highlighting what is an avoidable situation in New Hampshire.

Suicide prevention must be addressed, and our lawmakers have a duty to ensure youth have access to critical care in New Hampshire. Together we are obligated to invest in our children and youth. We can all make a difference by coordinating care and increasing supports, building on the strengths of children and their families.

Like a train that needs a connected and coordinated system of tracks to travel smoothly, our youth need a connected and coordinated system of services working together – including early screenings, strong school-based supports, crisis intervention services in all our counties, robust psychiatric services and more – so that youth get the resources they need when and where they need them. This access to resources will help reduce youth suicide, saving lives.

In 2016, a System of Care law was passed by the New Hampshire Legislature, which required the state to develop and maintain an integrated network of community-based services and supports for children with behavioral health needs. This system needs continued support and resources from our Legislature to help reduce the rates of suicide for people under 24 in the Granite State.

Increasing access to Mobile Response and Stabilization Services or “Mobile Crisis” is the logical next step in building a comprehensive System of Care. These services are widely recognized as essential and clinically appropriate for children with complex behavioral health conditions. Unfortunately, Mobile Response and Stabilization Services do not exist in New Hampshire in any intentional way for children, leaving a gaping hole in the System of Care. These services help children and youth experiencing a crisis receive immediate assistance and can save lives. Broad access to mobile crisis services can avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and are cost effective by preventing emergency room use, acute psychiatric hospitalization, residential treatment, and placement disruptions among children and youth who are experiencing a behavioral health crisis.

Currently, when a child is in crisis, families are often left with only two options – call the police or bring their child to the emergency department where they will wait (sometimes weeks) for a bed at an acute inpatient psychiatric hospital. Emergency departments and police departments often lack the specialized expertise and training to effectively respond to a child’s unique psychiatric needs, as well as the time and infrastructure to appropriately address the needs of individuals experiencing psychiatric or substance abuse crises. Besides, experiencing a psychotic episode is not a criminal act – it is a medical one. Children need medical care, not handcuffs. As the mother of a son with a serious and persistent mental illness, this lack of options is unacceptable.

During the next legislative session, our lawmakers must pass policy to fund and increase access to Mobile Response and Stabilization Services, which will help reduce youth suicide. We must continue to ensure that our lawmakers hear that message loud and clear.

Over the last 12 years, since my son was diagnosed with his mental illness, I have seen incredible progress in our system. However, there is still work to be done to ensure all of New Hampshire’s children get the support they need. I encourage you to get involved in this conversation.

The Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative is here to help you use your voice to speak up for improvement to the youth mental health and substance-misuse support system. Policymakers must continue to hear this message and support our youth to end this devastating crisis.

(Dellie Champagne, community engagement coordinator for the Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative, lives in Concord.)

To read the op-ed in the Concord Monitor, click here.