May is Mental Health Awareness Month and we got advice from the pros

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Photo via Children’s of Alabama

The month of May plays host to both Mental Health Awareness Month and National Nurses Week. Children’s of Alabama is expanding its behavioral health center in order to provide the best care for Birmingham families. We caught up with several behavioral health nurses to get an inside look + their best advice.

Behavioral Health at a Glance

Photo via Children’s of Alabama

Children’s of Alabama is one of the best pediatric medical centers in the nation. They treat patients from all over the world every year, adding up to 684,000 outpatient visits and more than 15,000 inpatient admissions last year alone.

Those are big numbers. When we think about pediatric medical care, we often think of kiddos whose fights are visible. We picture masks and wires and monitors, and that’s certainly a part of the outstanding care provided at Children’s.

However, the second-highest cause for admission isn’t something we can see. It’s behavioral health. Symptoms and treatment can look vastly different from child to child, but one thing is consistent: these kiddos need care just as much as anyone else.

How it Works

Graph via Children’s of Alabama

Mental and behavioral health can cover a wide range of actions, which means it requires a wide range of treatments. Above, you can see a broad overview of the treatment philosophy at Children’s. Read all about the goals and professionals involved here.

“At Children’s, what we do is stabilize acute patients. So that means they’re in a situation where their mental health has deteriorated to the point that they’re not safe anymore.”

Meg Smith, RN, The Ireland Center at Children’s of Alabama

While the majority of their work is centered around crisis intervention, the team of professionals at The Ireland Center continues to work with families after a child is stabilized.

They provide aftercare support options and assist with the transition back to familiar settings with the tools and resources geared toward healing and recovery.

The Ireland Center

Photo via Children’s of Alabama

The Ireland Center is Behavioral Health headquarters at Children’s of Alabama. Here’s where you can find it:

  • Children’s Hospital of Alabama Behavioral Health Ireland Center
  • 1600 7th Avenue South
  • 4th Floor
  • Office Phone: (205) 638-9193
  • Fax: (205) 638-9949

Staffed with an experienced and compassionate team, the Ireland Center provides high-quality care in the environment best suited for its patients. That means that treatment may occur on an outpatient or an inpatient basis.

Since Mental Health Awareness Month overlaps with National Nurses Week, we wanted to dive deep with the nurses in the Ireland Center to see what kind of wisdom they had to share.

Teamwork is important in most areas of medicine, but it’s especially vital in this type of atmosphere.

“In behavioral health, there has to be a more trusting relationship within the team because we depend so much on communication when it comes to patient care.”

Shunesa Perkins, RN, The Ireland Center at Children’s of Alabama

Expanding Care

Photo via Children’s of Alabama

The Ireland Center is currently undergoing an expansion. The unit sees more patients than almost any other specialty in the entire 3.5 million square foot campus.

“I’m really excited about it. It’s definitely needed. There’s a lack of resources, especially in the Birmingham area. It can be difficult.

Sometimes we have several patients in the emergency room just waiting on a bed in our unit, and we’re already full. I think it’s going to be great to have the extra beds to accept more patients and be able to reach a bigger population.”

Meg Smith, RN, The Ireland Center at Children’s of Alabama

No physical medical treatments take place in The Ireland Center. The focus is on mental and emotional health, which is just as vital to a child’s well-being. It also requires a different type of care—one that offers a deeper emotional connection.

Attention, Caregivers

Photo via Children’s of Alabama

I asked the nurses extraordinaire to share their best advice for parents, guardians and caregivers when it comes to supporting mental and behavioral health at home.

“It’s really important just to talk about it and be open with your kids about it. Obviously, there is still a stigma about mental illness with a lot of people. I think that’s what leads to it getting to the point where it’s really bad…

If you do think that your child may be struggling with anything mental illness-related, seeking out resources as soon as possible would be my recommendation.”

Meg Smith, RN, The Ireland Center at Children’s of Alabama

Speaking of resources, Children’s of Alabama provides tons of free + accessible materials, education and support for caregivers. Whatever kinds of challenges your child is facing, they’re prepared to walk you through it every step of the way. Here are a few of the many options:

Why the Work is Vital

Photo via Children’s of Alabama

In anything medical-related, we know that early intervention is best. The sooner professionals can address and treat an issue, the better. Behavioral health in children is no different.

“There are a lot of childhood behavioral conditions or psychiatry issues at this age that, if they’re caught early enough, the child can get the services they need and be placed in an environment that’s conducive to their growth and conducive to them being more functional in society.”

Shunesa Perkins, RN, The Ireland Center at Children’s of Alabama

You don’t need a referral to book an appointment at The Ireland Center. Information on initial evaluation appointments can be found here. They’re also offering telehealth services right now.

If your child is in crisis or if there is a high risk of danger, you can find emergency contact information and protocol here.

Before You Go—Here’s a Great Starting Place

Photo via Children’s of Alabama

If you don’t know where to begin, or you’re feeling overwhelmed, PIRC is a wonderful place to get started.

The Psychiatric Intake Response Center (PIRC), located in the Emergency Department at Children’s of Alabama, is a confidential psychiatric response center designed to assist patients, their loved ones and/or caregivers, and community providers in finding the appropriate level of mental health care.

These services are provided via telephone or in-person by licensed mental health clinicians trained to assess a child or teen’s mental, emotional, and behavioral needs and recommend the best treatment options.

Here’s how to contact them:

  • Any adult with a mental health question or concern regarding a child or adolescent is encouraged to contact the PIRC at (205) 638-PIRC (7472)
  • PIRC is open seven days a week, year-round from 8AM to 11PM
  • Anyone experiencing a crisis should call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.
  • Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should call the 24-hour, 7 days a week National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Be sure to follow Children’s of Alabama on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with the latest advice on how to keep the kiddos in your life happy + healthy.

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