We sat down with Emily Scheitz from the Washtenaw County Community Mental Health crisis response team to learn about the unique way it serves the county, and the team’s plans for the future.
The crisis team provides 24/7 crisis mental health care to everyone in Washtenaw County “without insurance mattering at all,” explains Emily Scheitz, a licensed social worker, crisis team service professional, and crisis team service coordinator.
The crisis team’s services range from regular wellness calls to in-person crisis response.
“We call 40 to 50 community members every day,” says Scheitz. During wellness calls, the crisis team assesses how the community member is doing and if there are any risks to the individual or others.
Wellness calls also give community members who are struggling something to count on. “It can be helpful to know someone will call them every day,” adds Scheitz.
But the team’s most important work, Scheitz says, is through the WCCMH 24/7 crisis line – 734-544-3050.
The crisis line can be used as a suicide hotline, though it works very differently than a standard hotline.
When a community member calls a standard suicide hotline, the hotline will call the police if staff believe the community member is at risk. That’s because in most cases, there’s no one else for the hotline to call. The police will take the caller to the hospital, since it’s uncertain whether someone can navigate a crisis safely at home, and most police don’t know how to respond to a mental health crisis.
“Police forcing someone to go to the hospital is the worst way to handle a mental health crisis,” says Scheitz, explaining that it adds more stress to a person who is already suffering.
The Washtenaw County crisis line works very differently.
“If you’re in a crisis, our team will come to your house,” says Scheitz. In most cases, the crisis team handles a mental health crisis without the police at all. If the police do have to come, they stand back and are only there to assure the crisis team’s safety.
“A suicide hotline is great, but coming to your house is better,” explains Scheitz. “We can see your home environment to learn more about your situation. And we can drive you to the hospital and walk you through check-in, which is scary to do alone, especially when you’re upset.
“We’re in-person support for people having the worst day of their lives,” Scheitz says.
The crisis team can help community members with other services, as well.
For example, if someone who appears to have a mental illness is causing an issue at a business, the business owner can call the crisis team to handle the situation instead of involving the police.
The crisis team also frequently responds to situations where children with autism or developmental disabilities are struggling. In some cases, a stranger can help calm down the child more effectively than a parent can.
Teenagers often use the crisis line, says Scheitz. “As anyone who’s been a teenager knows, it’s not an easy time of life.” The crisis team can assess if a teen can be safe at home, and can work with runaways to figure out how to make the home environment better.
While the majority of calls come from community members directly, a big percentage of crisis line calls come from police and hospitals as well. Hospitals call the crisis team because the team is the authorizing party for Medicaid recipients in Washtenaw County. Police call to ask a mental health crisis professional to accompany them to mental health related incidents.
“Even if people call the police because they don’t know about our service, the police often call us,” says Scheitz.
Scheitz is happy to see that the crisis line’s presence has been growing in the community. There are more ads and more initiatives helping to build awareness of the crisis team’s number and services.
In the future, Scheitz hopes to see the crisis team grow. “We’re understaffed, as everyone is now,” she says.
Right now, we work to respond to every call that comes through, and we prioritize individuals who are at most risk in the community. In the future, Scheitz says the team would like to work towards immediately offering to come to a caller’s house, even when the caller is not suicidal or in another serious crisis.
“[Responding in-person is] more caring, more effective, and seeing the home environment can change the picture,” Scheitz explains.
The Crisis Team is currently hiring Masters level clinicians, come join our team!! See our employment opportunities here.