By the starting of her 8-grade year in 2013, Julia Tannenbaum had been struggling with an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression for months. She was terrified to tell anyone.
Then, in the middle of a school day that fall, she hit a breaking point.
“Julia was just in a tremendous state of crisis, just emotionally out of control,” says her mother, Katherine Wilson. “We did not know what was going on with her, but she just couldn’t function.”
Alarmed by Tannenbaum’s behavior, the school dialed a familiar three-digit number. But it wasn’t an ambulance that showed up to the middle school – it was a clinician from Connecticut’s Mobile Crisis Intervention Services program, which deploys child and adolescent psychiatrists to mental health emergencies in homes, schools, and communities. People can call 2-1-1 to access it.
The goal of the state-funded initiative – among a number of similar adolescent-focused mobile services around the country – is to get children appropriate care while keeping them out of emergency rooms, which are always poorly equipped to deal with mental health crises, especially among kids. Meanwhile, the rate of young people visiting the ER for mental health issues has surged.
“Children are very different than adults,” says Tim Marshall, director of community mental health in Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families. “The most common error is to treat children as little adults when they’re not.”