GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Overcrowding at Michigan mental health facilities is leaving some families with few options for treatment.
That’s the case for single mother Danielle Ely Venn. She said her 12-year-old son, who has autism, had to go to the emergency room after he became suicidal. More than a week later, he was still at Helen Devos Children’s Hospital instead of a mental health facility.
“There was a young lady that was bullying him at school and at the Y center,” Ely Venn said. “Because he doesn’t have those coping skills, he felt that he just couldn’t take it and he felt like he wanted to kill himself.”
Ely Venn says the family has Medicaid, which works with Network180, a Kent County organization that offers services for mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities. Ely Venn called Network180 for her son’s mental health assessment and got approval to be referred to a mental health facility.
“They (Network180) are the ones that contacted Pine Rest (Christian Mental Health Services) and Forest View (Psychiatric Hospital) to see if there was any beds, and they just said there’s no beds anywhere in the state. It could be up to two, three weeks before any type of placement is available for these kids,” Ely Venn said.
She said this isn’t the first time her son has had to wait in the hospital to be placed at a mental health facility.
Doctors say it’s a mental health crisis.
“It peaked on Friday, where we had our highest number of patients waiting here for psychiatric placement,” said Dr. Elizabeth Kowal, the section chief for Pediatric Behavioral Health at the children’s hospital.
There were 23 child patients on Friday. The average is between eight and 10. Kowal said a large percentage of the patients are suicidal or have behavioral issues.
“They’re in a holding pattern. They’re waiting for that psychiatric bed,” she said. “We try to provide consistency as much as we can with their care here, but we struggle because most of our nurses, most of our techs, most of our staff are not trained in mental health.”
She said doctors will perform a psychiatric assessment and sometimes change medications based on what the patient’s needs and current condition.
Helen Devos Children’s Hospital currently has five psychologists, two child psychiatrists and a nurse practitioner. Another psychiatrist will join the team in July and another psychologist is coming in August.
Christy Buck, the executive director of the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, says the mental health facilities aren’t maxed out year-round, but there can be spikes during certain summer and fall months — March, April, May, August, September and October.
“What we need is to be proactive, understand that at these times of the year, stress can be on the increase, possible situations and things that might interfere with a child’s thinking, acting and feeling,” Buck said.
Those kinds of situations could be exams, college graduation, prom and dating.
“All of these things that we might minimize as so trivial in a kid’s life can be bigger than that,” Buck said.
Buck said there has been an increase in diagnosing mental health disorders. She said one in five young people experience a mental health disorder in a given year and anxiety can affect one third of kids. Contributing factors include bullying, some of which may happen on social media.
She added that work is underway to help kids like Ely Venn’s son, who has autism, by treating mental illness along with another disorder.
“A lot of it is understanding that there can be kids that might be struggling with other developmental disabilities, may in fact also experience depression,” Buck said.
She said both Forest View and Pine Rest added beds this year to accommodate the expanding needs of the mental health population
And though it may be difficult to get a bed at a facility, there are other resources available. Buck said Network180 just created a mobile crisis unit that is available to youth and families who have Medicaid. The unit will come to where you are and help the child and family work through the situation.
Ely Venn says she’s writing lawmakers to push for continued efforts to fund and support mental health programs.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255