Spotlight on Mental Health Awareness Month: A Lifesaving Intervention

Note: The names of the individuals in this story have been changed to respect their privacy

In 2017, Shelly’s 6-year-old son, John, attempted suicide. When she found him, clothes wrapped tightly around his neck, she quickly pulled him down and successfully resuscitated him. Horrified and in shock, she rocked him back and forth until finally, they both stopped trembling.

At the time, Shelly was unsure of what to do next. Even at his young age, John had endured far too much suffering. He had become aggressive at his daycare, and after seeking help from a child psychiatrist, Shelly learned that he had been sexually abused as a toddler. Even worse, John had recently lost family members whom he loved dearly, sending him into a spiral of grief and trauma that had eventually seemed too painful to bear. 

“I remember feeling so vulnerable, so scared,” Shelly recalled. “I just couldn’t understand why my 6-year-old child would try to take his life.”

Shelly reached out to her son’s psychologist, but was unable to connect. Determined to get help that evening, she was referred to one of Memorial Hermann’s Mental Health Crisis Clinics, which has extended hours. She gathered herself and her son and drove to the clinic located in Meyerland.

“The team was incredibly compassionate and we didn’t feel judged,” Shelly said.

While there, a psychiatrist assessed her son and also dedicated time to Shelly, consoling her and advising her separately.  The psychiatrist reviewed John’s prescription medications and recommended changes. Shelly knew that adhering to the recommended medications was fundamental to her son’s wellbeing, but she told the care team there that she struggled with refills, in spite of starting the process early. The team gave her insightful tips on how to prevent disruptions to medications. Their visit ended with education from the behavioral health clinician who offered additional coping mechanisms and suggested available resources.

“I recall thinking how it was so unlike a regular doctor’s visit, especially because I didn’t feel rushed,” Shelly said. I had their undivided attention, and I really needed it. I was particularly impressed by the follow-up phone call I received the next day, where the clinician called to check up on us. That added, personal touch really stood out.”

The memory of that day will forever haunt Shelly, but in the years that have passed since then, John has never again tried to take his life. Although he still struggles with challenges related to the trauma he has experienced, he is doing well—making friends, sticking to routines, and even playing sports.

“They were there for me on the worst day of my life,” Shelly said. “I will always be grateful for having that support when we needed it.”

Memorial Hermann’s Mental Health Crisis Clinics are a unique resource in the Greater Houston area, filling the gaps in traditional outpatient mental health models, especially when mental healthcare needs are immediate, as in John’s case. Currently, the average wait time to see a mental health provider averages around 90 days in the Houston region, making access to immediate care that much more valuable. Because no single program model can appropriately address every mental health need, Memorial Hermann’s Behavioral Health Services also offer a continuum of programs that complement the Mental Health Crisis Clinics.

These community-based Mental Health Crisis Clinics have become especially critical during the pandemic with the increase in suicidal ideation, a rate that is particularly alarming in adolescents and young adults.

“Volumes among individuals ages 18 and under have risen by 14 percent during the pandemic across our Mental Health Crisis Clinics, and minorities account for much of that increase,” said Mental Health Crisis Clinic Manager Sabina Pomykal, LCSW. “We’re proud to support and stand by these children and families during a time when a little warmth and compassion can have a profound impact.”

Memorial Hermann’s Mental Health Crisis Clinics are located in Humble, Spring Branch and Meyerland. All are near bus routes to ease access and inside retail centers to reduce stigma. Each year, these crisis clinics serve over 3,200 patients, from young children to older adults, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.

To learn more about Memorial Hermann’s Mental Health Crisis Clinics, visit: Mental Health Crisis Clinic (memorialhermann.org)

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Ali Vise