Local agency assists students, community through crisis

Reporter and Reporter

After the March 2 accident on Interstate-75 that took the lives of three University students, many students found themselves returning from spring break in need of comfort and support to calm the pain and make the healing process easier.

To accommodate those needs, a local social service agency will be waiting to provide a helpful “Link” to anyone seeking support in the wake of the crash and any other crisis.

The Link is a non-profit center specializing in providing crisis-based assistance to anyone in Bowling Green and the surrounding areas.

The organization specializes in crisis information and referrals and professional consultations via phone or walk-in visits.

Molly Whelan, licensed social worker and Link coordinator, said a crisis does not have one solid definition. Because of that, The Link has licensed professionals called Crisis Consultants who are experienced in working with all types of situations.

“A crisis is happening in someone’s life when their normal coping mechanism is not up to the task of helping them,” Whelan said. “A crisis for us can be if someone is lonely, homesick, thinking about suicide … just anything like that, including major mental illnesses.”

The Link was produced out of the merger of two organizations: Crisis Phone and Karma, in 1975. Currently, The Link is run by and funded through a larger organization known as Behavioral Connections of Wood County, Inc. The organization specializes in treatment for mental health issues and substance abuse to Wood County residents.

Whelan said the Link has had three different “incarnations” throughout its history. Since this past one the agency has never closed its doors.

“Since its last incarnation, we have not closed one day since,” Whelan said. “That is something that we’re very proud of.”

Whelan said the job of the Crisis Consultants is to first listen to the clients and then calmly talk to them about those issues and potential solutions to the problems.

“We’re here to listen,” she said. “You recognize instantaneously how awful a case is going to be and sometimes things snowball from one thing to another. We try to prioritize those things and talk about them individually.”

While The Link does not solely specialize in suicide-related cases, the agency does have detailed procedures set up to provide thorough and supportive short-term care to anyone feeling like they might cause themselves harm, Whelan said.

“The most extreme case we usually deal with is someone who is feeling suicidal,” she said. “We do what is called ‘Pink Slipping’ if we believe they are enough of a threat to harm themselves or anyone else. That is when we put a holder on someone and admit them into a hospital against their will for up to 72 hours. But we do not make that decision lightly.”

Helping the agency make that decision is a network of local police. Whelan said when local police receive an after-hours suicide-related call the officers take the person to The Link so a decision can be made on the true severity of the situation.

“The Bowling Green Police, Wood County Sheriff’s Department and the BGSU Police are really good at looking at the whole picture,” Whelan said. “They take the [client] to The Link so we can assess and determine if hospitalization is needed … We could not ask for better support.”

Lieutenant Ken Fortney of the Bowling Green Police Division said The Link is not only a valuable tool for the community, but it provides the police with a “viable option” for providing people with help the police may not be able to give them.

“We use them as pre-screeners,” he said. “Their staff will interview them and see if they need help. They’re trained at a higher level than us to deal with people with mental health issues … It’s a lot more help than we can give them.”

Throughout the past couple of years, The Link has seen a steady increase in the amount of clients contacted. According to the Behavioral Connections website, from July 2010-July 2011, The Link made around 9,776 contacts with approximately 5,792 deemed “crisis calls.” This February there were 1,186 calls or walk-ins with 607 listed as crises, Whelan said.

“We get everything from the first psychotic breakdown all the way down to ‘hey, I’m lonely and I miss my home,’” she said. “Our biggest fear is that people will only call if they feel suicidal. We are not a suicide hotline, we are a crisis hotline. We talk about anything.”

Whelan said The Link receives many calls from University students who are going through an abundance of emotional problems. She said the calls range from loneliness and bad break-ups to homesickness and suicidal thoughts. Though with students returning from break after the recent tragedy, she said she expects many future callers to be voicing their grief over the tragic March 2 loss of their peers.

“As soon as it happened, spring break happened,” she said. “I’m not completely sure, but I expect to have more calls when people are back because [University students] are now faced with looking around classrooms at chairs that are empty and that can be very hard to deal with.”

While the organization runs out of Wood County, The Link’s services are free and available to anyone feeling affected by an emotional or mental crisis regardless of where they live, Whelan said.

For more information or to speak with a Crisis Consultant, call The Link at 419-352-1545 or visit the website at www.behavioralconnections.org.