Asking a New Question

When Brandi Kenney, a member of the Johnson County 24 Hour Crisis Line team, shared this testimony at the annual Kansas Behavioral Health Conference, we were moved. It is so inspiring to hear how a simple question is making a huge impact for families in crisis. START is proud to be partnering with Johnson County Mental Health, and many other community stakeholders, to educate our kids about digital health and wellness.

I’m a social worker, and part of my job is to take calls on the Johnson County 24 Hour Crisis Line. We take emergency calls from adults and kids alike– from suicide threats, to panic attacks, to law enforcement officer support. We know that lack of sleep is oftentimes an aggravator of the crisis situations that get called in, so we have always asked them a simple question, “How’s your sleep?” and the answer is oftentimes, “Okay.”

This summer, one of our clinicians, Kim, attended a START Training session for staff at Johnson County Mental Health, and she came back to our team with a fresh idea: “What if we go a little deeper, and ask about tech use while sleeping?” Our team jumped on board quickly. So instead of just asking “How’s your sleep?” We began asking, “Hey, do you by chance go to bed with your phone?” and if so, “Are you waking for every notification?” And what we found was that many of them are getting up frequently to check their phone and don’t see the correlation between that and mental health. So instead of skipping over this important data point, we take a moment to tell them that if you aren’t sleeping–it can lead you to impulsive decision making, irrational thinking, and negative emotional spirals.

It seems like such a simple thing, but it has been quite the breakthrough for our clinicians. Not only does this help us pin point the root cause of much of their sleeplessness, but it also helps us open up a conversation with the parents . And it is so cool, because while we often start by talking with parents about device bedtimes, we oftentimes end up having the opportunity to educate them about other healthy tech use habits.

The truth is, we can’t expect our kids to have healthy smartphone behaviors unless we take time to educate them about the benefits of doing so. We are excited about the impact this could make on the families we work with, and are thankful for START’s help getting the ball rolling.