Mobile crisis team makes a difference for Winnipeg teen

When Leona Howika's 15-year-old daughter said she was thinking about suicide, she took her to the family doctor who made a referral to a specialist — but there was a lag. That’s when Macdonald Youth Services’ youth crisis stabilization system swooped into action.
Kelly Schettler (left) and Mawney Larsen (right) work with Macdonald Youth Services' youth crisis stabilization system in Winnipeg. (Pat Kaniuga/CBC)

When Leona Howika's 15-year-old daughter told her she was thinking of suicide, Howika sprang into action, she says — she took Lexie to the family doctor, who then referred her to a specialist.

But there was a lag. While waiting for the next appointment, Lexie went into crisis and needed something or someone to help fill the gap. That's when Howika called Macdonald Youth Services' youth crisis stabilization system (YCSS) to access their mobile crisis team.

That call may have saved her daughter's life, Howika said.

"Honestly, every corner we turned we found somebody there ready to … support us," she said.

YCSS provides a range of mental health services to youth, parents and guardians in Winnipeg. It takes calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week on their intake line and a mobile crisis team makes home visits from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m.

The organization has received more than 6,000 calls like Howika's in the last year in Winnipeg, said assistant co-ordinator Mawney Larsen.

About 1,400 of those calls result in the mobile crisis team being dispatched to a family home. Other calls are less urgent and referred to community supports, while many other callers are told to hang up and call 911. The YCSS takes about 30 minutes to reach the family — ambulances are much faster.

"(Our) team walks into all kinds of situations," said YCSS crisis response team member Kelly Schettler, "It's not our job to define crisis for someone." 

Teams of two are dispatched to the homes. They assist in all kinds of situations, including ongoing disputes and depression. A significant portion of the calls are from parents and guardians concerned about teen self-harm, said Schettler.

Leona Howika says she did everything right when her daughter, Lexie, said she was thinking about suicide, but they still needed emergency support. (Marcy Markusa/CBC)

Helping families such as Lexie Howika's while they wait for follow-up appointments is not uncommon either, said Schettler.

"She was seen and assessed. Everything happened the way it should, but there can still be a lag." 

This is the challenging part about delivering mental health support, said Schettler.

"Suicide risk [shifts] moment to moment. Somebody can be safe the moment we see them … but there's still that time where anything can change," she said.

Child and youth hospitalizations in Canada are on the rise for mental illness. From 2006-07 to 2013-14 the number of emergency department visits for mental disorders increased 45 per cent, according to a recent study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.


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