One of the first things a visitor notices on the wall of the Centre County Walk-in Crisis Center is a quilt-like banner from a Centre County Out of the Darkness Walk. The banner was made by people who had lost someone close to them because of suicide.
Each square offers a message of hope to whoever reads it, letting them know that help is out there.
The Walk-In Crisis Center, at 2100 East College Avenue in State College, opened late last year. The center aims to be that place of hope where people in Centre County can go when they need help during a crisis, anytime of the day, every day of the week.
After all, a mental health crisis can happen at any moment and to anyone. For many dealing with such a crisis, it is hard to know where to go for help.
The Walk-in Crisis Center, run by Butler-based Center for Community Resources, provides a safe, accessible physical space for people when they are dealing with a difficult situation and looks to take the stigma out mental health.
Counselors at the center are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Opened in December 2019, the center offers a warm, inviting space to help people feel comfortable as they seek help while at their most vulnerable.
“We really hope that this program will lessen the stigma of getting or seeking out mental health services,” says program manager Tammy Harrington. “We don’t look like your typical clinic or emergency room or anything like that. We are not hospital-based, so it is a more welcoming environment for people who may have been uncomfortable seeking out those kinds of services.”
Harrington says counselors at the center look at all parts of a person’s life, the good and the bad, in order to find a resolution to the crisis.
“We are looking at the individual as a whole; what else is going on in your life that may have sparked your current crisis and what can we do to address that, the whole issue, not just this little piece of it,” says Harrington. “We look at what is going right, not always focusing on what is going wrong.”
Harrington says people who come to the center for help are initially greeted by staff, who make an effort to help them feel at ease. “Whether they want coffee, tea, water, or anything like that, a snack, we offer that to help them feel comfortable,” she says.
Staff will then assess the purpose of the visit, to see how they can help. The center is chock full of resources, including info about support groups and community programs. Rooms allow counselors to meet privately with people in need.
“Counselors will take a laptop in there when they meet with them and kind of get a feel about what is happening and then decide where to go, what referrals are appropriate, what we can do to help mitigate things for them,” Harrington says. That may include contacting family and friends for supports, existing services that someone may have, or referring someone to new services they may not know about. Sometimes it may mean taking a trip to emergency room to get evaluated by medical professionals.
“Sometimes people come in and they don’t know what they want to do, and they may not feel comfortable talking to someone yet,” she says “They may just want to look around and get their bearings, and they are welcome to do that. We just kind of leave them alone, tell them to come and get us when they are ready, and they can help themselves to any of the resources we have sitting out.”
Harrington says the community took to the center quickly, but, just like everything else, things slowed down at the center during the pandemic because people were not out and about as much.
“Unfortunately, we have seen a real increase in people waiting to get services until it is really almost too late, so it is lot more serious incidents coming along because they are waiting,” she says.
People don’t need to wait, Harrington adds. The center is open just like always, with safety measures in place. The team at the center also operates the county crisis line (1-800-643-5432) and provides mobile crisis intervention services for the county. Because all of these services are coming out of the same location, it allows options for people who may have not realized they had any before.
“We have kind of melded everything together; a lot of time the phone call is the first point of access for someone,” Harrington says. “During the phone call, we will review options that people have. They can keep talking on the phone and we can try to resolve things from there and then we offer the walk-in center, ‘if you are able come in to see what we have to offer,’ because we can do a lot more from here.
If someone is unable to come into the center, mobile counselors are available.
“We can come to you and help resolve whatever crisis is going on, at your home or anywhere in the community that you feel is safe to meet,” says Harrington. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the center also offers telehealth assessments. Harrington says she hopes that service will continue to be available after the pandemic is over, “because it really helps people in rural areas.”
Now that things are running smoothly at the center, they are looking to become more active in the community beyond just being the “place where people come to in a crisis,” Harrington says. Before the pandemic, the center had started a support group for parents of children who may have recently been given a mental health diagnosis, and they plan to continue to program virtually this fall. Recovery workshops and suicide prevention programs are also on the horizon, she says.
Harrington credits a strong, diverse staff for the success of the program.
“The team that we have here is phenomenal; it is a joy to come to work every day,” says Harrington. “They understand the mission and support the mission and are here to help people.”
The public is welcome to come in to check the center out.
“We would love for people to come see the place, ask us questions, and let us know how we can help them,” Harrington says.