What’s in your wallet?

6417415359_c09182877eNot 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.


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8 thoughts on “What’s in your wallet?

  1. Thank you Beth. This is a sad reminder that when it comes to mental health people back off, not sure what to do. We often hear heroic stories of people running into fires to save people, but in your story a crowd gathered. We still have work to do.

  2. Kudos to Beth’s son, too, for waiting, for allowing his mom to offer support!

    Also, Beth’s story suggests a topic that may be tricky to discuss but here goes–
    when all other techniques have failed; for safety, is there still a role for a kind of restraint..
    perhaps in this case a blanket/ a well-loved toy could go with this family on outings(depending on the size/age/associations for the child with those objects)?
    I know of one parent who begged a therapist at an in-home session to demonstrate (w/o the child present, at the end of a family session) a safe hold… this parent needed a way to sit with the child without him bruising all involved..a parent who had seen the benefits of waiting out the child’s flailing with him wedged into the corner of the couch, the parent next to him…
    But in Beth’s story, when a situation happens in the community, even if a parent knew how to restrain–
    what to do… start filming oneself to prove there’s no intent to harm by the parent, as surely at least one bystander would tend to view a volatile situation… because underlying the issue of bystanders’ watching, there’s at least one person thinking,
    “I’d rather do nothing than be the one left holding the blame….”

    Finally, I think this story underscores societal pressure for a mother (more than for a father?!) to know what to do, that people have resolved themselves to how inertia is the best option–maybe because if something goes wrong (e.g.,if the helper were to need stitches from the biting for example, or the little girl somehow got bruised from being grabbed (by other than by the mother… even if to prevent this girl from running out in the parking lot…?!) and that would be grounds for a lawsuit… (is there no “good samaritan” law for bystanders, like for doctors when they help someone and yet the victim’s health were to worsen in that act of helping…?…. btw, in Beth’s story, kudos to that man, who chose NOT to be an ineffectual bystander) and so my post ends with congratulating Beth how education is the best prevention, so
    that mobile crisis can be used, and that helps everyone be safe!

  3. While much more to do, the fact that we did not say (or think) “Bad Mom” shows how far we really have had to go just to get here. Like to think I might have tried to help but bet that I have passed over that opportunity many times. Great and challenging post.

  4. Kudos to Beth and the gentleman for helping. Unfortunately, though, calling the Mobile Crisis team may not have produced the desired outcome. Most Mobile Crisis Teams only evaluate risk, not contain acting-out persons. Although the mother did not want the police called, in a situation where there is physical risk to the individual and/or to others, the police may be the best recourse. Beth did a good job phishing out the mother’s natural supports. What a difficult decision for the mother to accept the gentleman’s help to physically restrain the child. As Jan pointed out, the risks of accepting or offering help sometimes outweigh the benefits. Many parents would not accept any type of assistance in situations as this. Many parents just don’t take their children out into public places in fear of their behaviors, and if they do, they don’t do it alone. CPI teaches a Child Control Hold that protects the child, as well as the adult, and I wish more parents were aware of this hold. I feel that the manner in which Beth approached the mother, was most beneficial and non-threatening to the mother. The control remained with the mother.

  5. This story was very moving and brought me back to the many times I had similar problems controlling my son when out in public. I can’t imagine how meaningful it would have been if someone had asked to help as Beth did.

  6. It can be hard to know how to offer help, for me at least. When do you step in and more importantly what to say? I thought Beth nailed by saying “I don’t know how I can help right now but I want to try. Please let me know what I can do.” Humane and heart-centered; it’s what I’d want to hear if I was in that situation! Thanks Beth for showing us the way to make a difference to someone in need.

  7. Having had many of these challenging experiences when out with my son over the past several years, I would have loved for someone to offer support. More often, there is judgement about how the mother doesn’t know how to handle / discipline her child. What a perfect response by Beth, which plants the seed for us in the event we witness this type of situation, modeling a way we could assist someone in need.

  8. I think what Beth did is what any person can learn from and do. All we need to know is not be afraid, because the parent and child are already and take an opportunity to help another person in need. It sounds easier said than done.

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