Not too long ago my youngest son and I went off to Walmart to get some much needed supplies. We each grabbed a cart and our plan was to meet at the checkout aisle in 30 minutes. Little did we know that three hours later I would be supporting a mom whose daughter was having a mental health crisis and having trouble accessing mobile crisis services.
The store was filled with shoppers and lots of noise on this busy Saturday. Every aisle I visited had at least two people, sometimes many, in conversations. There was one constant sound in the store, though, and it was a young girl screaming about a doll. At first I ignored it, thinking it would stop when she got tired or her parents left the store. I remembered at times my boys would cry because I would not buy them another toy while we were out shopping. So I had learned to tune those sounds out. But I couldn’t tune this out ….it was different.
The yelling was getting louder and closer with the little girl now screaming “I want that doll.” Then the chase began. The little girl ran right by me screaming, chased by her crying mom who was walking fast to catch up with her. This went on for a long time and I kept thinking that the manager or an employee would offer the mom some help or even call the police to help calm the situation down. But no one did anything. When my son and I got to the cashier, we started unloading our carts. I could still hear the mom crying so I looked for her. When I saw her trying to restrain her daughter and being bitten, I knew I had to try to help.
I bent down and said to her “I don’t know how I can help you right now but I would like to try. Please let me know what I can do”. By now there were at least 20 people watching us and not one said “I’ll help too.” She said that she could not pick her child up because she was biting and kicking her and she needed someone strong to help. As I stood up to see who I could ask, a man entered the store and came right over to us asking how he could help. The two of them carried her out as she was trying to hit and bite them.
The mom asked the man to put the girl in her car seat so she could not hit or bite anymore. The girl was stiff and rigid and it was impossible to get her in her seat. The man restrained the girl and the mom and I began to brainstorm ideas. She told me her five year old daughter had ADHD and saw a clinician. When I asked, it turned out she had the clinician’s crisis number. She called and explained that she could not get her daughter into her car seat and need them to come to Walmart and help her. She was told she had to bring her daughter to their office. They offered nothing else and that was the end of the call.
I then asked her if she knew about mobile crisis services and she did not. I explained, then asked if she wanted me to call for her. She said yes but please, don’t call the police. I said I would not. So while the man was still restraining the girl, I ran into Walmart to use the phone and call for help.
First, I called directory assistance. I had the address and knew the kind of service but they replied they had no such listing and even though we tried to brainstorm, it got me nowhere. I then called the local hospital’s emergency room for the number. No luck. Next, I ran and got my purse out of the cart because I thought I had the mobile crisis business card in my wallet. I didn’t. I ran to my car to see if I had it in my briefcase but again, I didn’t.
Finally, I ran back to the mom’s car to find the little girl was still so out of control that the man was not able to let her go. I felt like a failure and said to the mom, “I can’t find the number. Do you want me to call a relative or someone?” She told me her husband had just picked up her message and was trying to find a ride. I told her I thought she was doing a great job of staying in control and handling the situation. I gave her my card, told her about PPAL and said to please call. At this point, the young girl’s father arrived. The girl was still crying, but exhausted now and it was easier to get her in her car seat. They thanked us and off they went. It had been almost two hours since the crisis began.
I went back into Walmart and talked to the manager. She said they usually call the police when there is an incident, but didn’t feel it was the right thing to do with a young child. I explained that the police shouldn’t be your only option. Later that day, I returned with a stack of business cards that I asked her to pass to her employees and leave at the service phone. I put a few cards in my glove compartment and several in my wallet. Now when I am in a store I give the manager one and ask her to post it by the main phone and let their employees know what it is. I would never want another family to have problems accessing a service that is intended for this purpose. So, will you be ready to help someone in crisis in your community? What’s in your wallet?
Beth is the mother of three young men with mental health and medical challenges. She is a strong advocate and involved with several groups and initiatives around genetics, medical and mental health. Beth is the Training Coordinator for PPAL.