This rendering shows Children’s Wisconsin’s new walk-in clinic, which will provide care for children experiencing urgent mental health needs. (Photo provided by Children’s Wisconsin)

Mental health isn’t limited to one demographic over another. Anyone, no matter their age, race or gender can be impacted by mental health and that includes children. Over the past few years, mental health concerns among children have increased and Children’s Wisconsin is answering the call.

Children’s Wisconsin announced it will soon be opening the Craig Yabuki Mental Health Clinic. The clinic is for children ages 5 to 18 experiencing urgent mental health needs and will be located within the Children’s Wisconsin Clinics Building, 8920 W. Connell Ct.

In 2019, Children’s Wisconsin identified seven initiatives to address mental and behavioral needs: universal screening for mental health, early childhood mental health, school-based mental and behavioral health, integrated mental and behavioral health, therapist fellowship program, urgent and emergent mental health and partnerships with inpatient and residential care providers.

The hospital estimated that the initiatives would cost $150 million. The walk-in clinic is part of this work.

Amy Herbst is the vice president of mental and behavioral health at Children’s Wisconsin. She explained that Children’s Wisconsin is asking parents to view an urgent mental health need as any other medical issue.

“We created the whole program based on families being able to use their judgement and be able to access immediate care,” she said.

Herbst noted that the clinic was created in response to parents and families who said that their children were experiencing urgent mental health needs that weren’t necessarily emergency needs but nor could they wait for their next appointment.

Mental health needs among children have been a priority, and the pandemic further emphasized how important it is that those needs be addressed.

“The demand for services has been growing at an alarming rate,” Herbst said. “If we look at the time between 2019 and 2021, call volumes to our mental health access center tripled.”

Since 2020, visits to the emergency department for mental and behavioral health concerns have increased by 40%, Herbst said.

“All of this falls on the heels on the fact that Wisconsin youth suicide rates were higher than the national average even prior to the pandemic,” she said. “All of that is really concerning to us and completely not acceptable.”

When Children’s Wisconsin looked further into the data, it found that 1 in 10 Black or other youth of color reported suicide attempts. In comparison, the attempted suicide rate among white youth is 1 in 15.6.

The Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is conducted in high schools, reported similar findings. The survey found that Black high school students reported some of the highest rates of suicide attempts, Herbst said, adding that suicide deaths among Black youth ages 15-24 increased by 47% for males and 59% for females between the years of 2014 to 2019.

With those data points in mind, Children’s Wisconsin recognized that its youth are not OK and that certain populations are more at risk. It was time to do something different to their needs, Herbst said.

“Families simply need to come to the walk-in clinic,” Herbst said. “We will have licensed mental health providers there that will provide those brief interventions and conduct safety risk assessments so we can make sure that we’re putting in place some temporary supports for families.”

It is not meant to replace their current treatment plan and the clinic will be working with the patient’s doctors and mental health providers to ensure continuity of care. If a patient isn’t connected to mental health services, the clinic will help connect them to the necessary resources.

The clinic is part of Children’s Wisconsin ongoing efforts to combat the mental health stigma. Children are better at talking about mental health than adults are, Herbst noted.

“Mental health is health,” Herbst said. “And just like you might access urgent physical health care for maybe a sprained ankle or strep throat, we’re saying ‘Listen, we’re going to provide urgent mental health access as well.’ Families can think of this like they do any other injury or any other medical issue.”

Children’s Wisconsin hopes to open the clinic soon and is working on hiring staff. About 75% of the staff required has been hired, Herbst said, and once the team is finalized the doors will be opened.

In addition to the new mental health clinic, Children’s Wisconsin’s Mental Health Crisis Response Team will remain in place in the emergency department and trauma center, 8915 W. Connell Ct.

When accessing their child’s needs, parents will be able to choose between the emergency department and the urgent mental health walk-in clinic. The most important thing is that parents seek care for their children when they need it, Herbst said.