It’s a clinic like no other on the Children’s Wisconsin Hospital campus. There are no needles, no injections, no X-rays or prescriptions for medicines.
But since the Craig Yabuki Mental Health Walk-In Clinic opened its doors on Wednesday a year ago, nearly 1,000 children and young people ages 5 to 18 have been cared for by staff using two seemingly simple tools — talking and listening.
The clinic is the first of its kind in the state and offers children and young people experiencing a mental health crisis the opportunity to meet immediately with a social worker or licensed mental health practitioner. No appointment is required.
The operation of the clinic could not be more up-to-date. Doctors across the state are seeing a rise in children with mental health issues, intense behavioral issues, and suicidal thoughts and attempts.
According to a hospital and clinic spokesman, clinic staff treated 917 children and young people in emergency situations last year, making a total of 972 visits. Trauma and other stressors and anxiety were the reasons for 566 of the visits, with a return to full-time in-person study driving these issues, said Tammy Makhlouf, a licensed clinical consultant and the clinic’s director.
Makhlouf said clinic staff sees many students coming straight out of school with school avoidance problems and panic attacks.
“With the younger kids, I think it adapts to school. They’ve been at home for two years and now they’re in an environment they’re not used to,” Makhlouf said. “Depending on age, there are social skills that have not been developed through isolation.”
What defines a crisis varies from family to family.
“We don’t decide what the crisis is,” Makhlouf said. “The family decides what the crisis is. And no crisis is too big or too small.”
A child should be seen in the clinic if they are experiencing new or worsening symptoms of:
- Anxiety, stress or a panic attack
- Trouble focusing
- Loss of appetite or feelings of isolation
- mood swings
- Hyperactivity or attention problems
- Lack of interest in family or social activities
- Difficulty sleeping
- school avoidance
Dominique Alvarado of Milwaukee decided her then 6-year-old son Zaylyn was going through a crisis last summer. He complained of frequent abdominal pains, was “overly jittery” and was jittery most of the time.
“I know that fear looks different for everyone,” Alvarado said. “I thought these underlying symptoms were a sign of something bigger.”
She was right. While the pandemic has proven problematic for many, Zaylyn has adjusted well to full school days again, Alvarado said. It was a family situation that was difficult for Zaylyn to understand. The situation scared him.
“He was so nervous, so scared,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen if we don’t deal with this right away.'”
She remembers hearing about the opening of an outpatient mental health clinic. A quick internet search brought her to the clinic, which is located on the Children’s Wisconsin campus. It was a Friday night when she and her son met with a therapist for the first time. Zaylyn was asked to draw his feelings.
He was scared at first, Alvarado said. He didn’t know the clinicians. But now he knows he’s only going to talk to someone “about his feelings,” she said.
“If your child felt something physically or you felt something was wrong physically, you wouldn’t hesitate to go to the emergency room or call your GP and ask, ‘What should we do?'” Alvarado said . “So it shouldn’t be any different for mental health, especially when the services are right here.”
Makhlouf said a child who is actively committing suicide, has overdosed, injured themselves and needs medical attention, or is in an altered mental state should be taken to an emergency room. The walk-in clinic is staffed by mental health professionals, not medical professionals.
The clinic is named in memory of Craig Yabuki, who committed suicide in 2017. The Yabuki Family Foundation subsequently donated $20 million to help Children’s Wisconsin more effectively provide mental health and behavioral health care, including recruitment Psychiatric Provider to all Children’s Wisconsin primary care offices and emergency clinics.
What days and times is the practice open?
3:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., seven days a week except for some major holidays.
What services are provided in the clinic?
- Assessment to identify immediate safety concerns
- Short intervention through temporary on-site advice and coping tips
- Coordinate care with the child’s existing care team (pediatrician, school or other providers) to ensure everyone understands the child’s needs
- Referrals to helpful resources after the child’s visit to the clinic, including follow-up care if needed
- When you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat with 988lifeline.org
- HOPELINE: For emotional support, text “Hopeline” to 741-741
- Milwaukee County 24-hour emergency line: 414-257-7222. When needed, a mobile team can meet adults and youth anywhere to talk and connect them with resources.
- Milwaukee Coalition for Children’s Mental Health: Visit mkekids.org for resources on mental health support, support with other basic needs, and tips on how to help children cope with life during the pandemic.
- Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health: Visit children.wi.gov for resources on accessing medical care, hotlines, peer support, child care and more.
Jessica Van Egeren is the corporate health reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She can be reached at [email protected].