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What makes a good listener? Common responses to this question include someone who is attentive, engaged, non-judgmental, helpful, knowledgeable and empathetic.
All of these words could be used to describe the staff who answer calls to The Harris Center Crisis Line. Started in 2003 as part of the development of the Agency’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (CPEP) Division, the Crisis Line is available 24 hours per day/7 days per week. It serves anyone in Harris County who is experiencing a mental health and/or an intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) related crisis.
“The Crisis Line is there when you need it, be it in the middle of the night or the middle of the day. Our staff provides a listening ear that allows people to have open and honest conversations about difficult topics, they help people identify ways to cope and stay safe, they engage in collaborative problem solving to find the most appropriate solutions and next steps and they provide follow-up support to ensure that people are getting the help they need after the initial crisis,” said Jennifer Battle, LMSW, the Program Director for the Crisis Line since its inception.
The creation of a 24-hour crisis line is no small feat. By using national standards and best practices to inform their work, Battle and her team were able to develop a program that received full accreditation from the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) within six months of starting its operations. The Crisis Line has received stellar reviews and continued successful re-accreditation from the AAS ever since.
In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed legislation that required all local mental health authorities in the state to provide a 24-hour crisis line for their service areas. Given that The Harris Center already had a fully developed and accredited crisis line in place that was used as the model in the development of this legislation, the Agency began to contract with other local mental health authorities in Texas to serve as their crisis line. Today, The Harris Center Crisis Line serves in this capacity for approximately one-third of all Texans.
“We wanted to be able to assist our sister centers in providing excellent care, which is a common goal for all of us,” said Janice Cote, LMSW, Assistant Director of the Crisis Line. Like Battle, she was part of the original staff of the program.
In order to ensure that they are well equipped to deal with the needs of callers, staff of the Crisis Line receive vigorous training that prepares them for the variety of situations they can expect to encounter on the Crisis Line. In addition to the normally required training for all new employees, crisis line specialists receive an additional 240 hours of training before they are able to work independently. The Crisis Line management team then provides on-going support and oversight as well as continuing education opportunities for the staff.
While the staff of the Crisis Line deal with difficult situations every day, they also receive calls from individuals who were previously helped by the Crisis Line and who simply want to say thank you.
“People say they felt heard, they were not judged, and that they felt that the person they spoke with really cared. To get an unsolicited and heartfelt thank you call is a gift to the entire team, so we celebrate it as such,” said Battle.
In that spirit, the management team showcases each of these calls, minus any confidential or identifying information, on a magnet that is placed on a board inside the Crisis Line office. Once the board fills up, the individual magnets are given to the specific crisis line specialists who took the initial calls for display in their cubicles as a reminder of the difference they make in people’s lives.
“Showing empathy and support and asking probing questions in a respectful way are skills that we talk about a lot here. But when a specific person calls to say what that support really means to them in their worst moment, it gives me the strength to keep going, to keep caring, to keep offering hope, even on my own difficult days,” said Robert McIntyre, a crisis line specialist since 2013.
Anyone experiencing a mental health and/or an IDD related crisis may call The Harris Center Crisis Line at 713-970-7000, option 1, 24 hours per day/7 days per week.
Through The Harris Center’s partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a Lifeline call in the area we cover was answered by our Crisis Line. The caller was inebriated and sitting on the railroad tracks with the intent to die.
All of us need support from time to time. Whether we need to have a good cry or a good laugh, knowing we have someone to turn to in a time of crisis is a comfort many of us take for granted.
For individuals living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), finding that help is not always easy. The same is true for those who serve as caregivers for loved ones with IDD. At The Harris Center, the IDD Intensive Needs Program is available to help provide the support and compassion that many need.
While the IDD Intensive Needs Program provides community-based supports throughout Harris County, it also has a component that focuses on providing crisis care. Implemented in 2016 as an initiative of the State of Texas and led by Clinical Team Leader Amanda Willis, LCSW-S, the three person staff is composed of master level clinicians who provide assessments, support and linkage to on-going community-based services for individuals with IDD who find themselves in a crisis.
The Harris Center Psychiatric Emergency Service (PES) located at the NeuroPsychiatric Center (NPC) is one of the major public mental health emergency programs in Harris County. Started in 1999, services are available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week to anyone in Harris County experiencing some type of mental health crisis.
The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD recently hosted an Open House and inauguration for its new PostHospitalization Crisis Residential Unit (PHCRU). Funded by the Texas 1115 Healthcare Transformation Waiver, this one-of-a-kind, cost-effective program will focus on furthering each individual’s work toward stabilization and reducing costly emergency room visits, incarceration and rapid hospital readmissions in the future.
"I received a call from a woman who was depressed and felt like no one appreciated her. She stated that her sons always responded when she requested assistance, but they never just called to check on her and say 'hello.'
"I have been working at the Hospital to Home program at Open Door Mission. One day I was walking around in the court yard, and a resident approached me. He had been at our Southmore program a couple of times, and he remembered me.
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The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD strives to provide high quality, efficient, and cost effective services so that persons with mental disabilities may live with dignity as fully functioning, participating, and contributing members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay based on a sliding scale rate schedule.
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