It was June of 2022 when Zaylyn, 6 years old at the time, started complaining of stomach aches.
“It was hurting here,” Zaylyn said as he pointed to just above his stomach and below his chest. “It was tight in there like someone was punching me.”
Dominique, Zaylyn’s mom, knew that didn’t sound like a typical stomach ache. Combined with him seeming irritable — and also knowing some of the stresses going on at home — led her to think this was related to anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety don’t always show up as nervous “panic attacks,” especially in children who may be too young to put their feelings into words.
“It didn’t feel like an emergency, but it was starting to feel unmanageable,” said Dominique. “I remember thinking that I couldn’t imagine getting through the whole weekend with him like this.”
That’s when she looked up the Craig Yabuki Mental Health Walk-In Clinic, located on the Children’s Wisconsin Milwaukee campus. She took him in on a Friday evening and he saw a therapist who did some artwork with him and spent time with Zaylyn one on one.
“I talked about my feelings,” said Zaylyn. “They helped me put things into words.”
“It was extremely helpful,” said Dominque, “and I remember leaving there feeling like a weight had been lifted off the both of us.”
Not only did the clinic team help Zaylyn manage his emotions that day, they also made him an appointment with a Children’s Wisconsin behavioral health consultant the following Monday. Behavioral health consultants are licensed therapists who work alongside the child’s pediatrician in Children’s Wisconsin primary care offices. They were put at ease and had a plan to move forward.
The Craig Yabuki Mental Health Walk-In Clinic opened on March 8, 2022. It is the first and only clinic of its kind in Wisconsin. In their first year, the mental health providers have seen more than 900 kids with a range of concerns. The most prevalent issues are trauma, anxiety and school avoidance.
“We slowed down just a bit in the summer, but otherwise, we have been steady and busy,” said Tammy Makhlouf, LPC, manager of the Craig Yabuki Mental Health Walk-In Clinic. “Families just keep telling us, ‘We’re so glad you’re here.’”
The average age is 12 years old, but they are seeing more and more younger kids, like Zaylyn. They have had families travel from as far away as Manitowoc and Chicago, but the majority are from Milwaukee, Waukesha and Racine counties.
It’s been a year of education and growth for Tammy and her team. They have learned how to better connect kids to mental health resources after they leave the clinic. That could be the behavioral health consultants, a Children’s Wisconsin school therapist or other community organizations.
“We want families to know that there is no crisis too big or too small,” said Tammy. “If something feels unmanageable to you, then come see us.”
Zaylyn, now 7, is in a much better place with his mental health. It’s been a journey that started at the walk-in clinic. He has learned how to use new coping skills like breathing, and he’s gotten much better at putting his anxiety into words. He is seeing a long-term therapist and has a social-emotional group at school that provides support.
“I think kids don’t want to worry their parents and tell them what’s wrong,” said Dominique. “That’s why we have to pay attention to those signs that something is off.”
For Zaylyn, it was the stomach aches. For other kids it could be headaches, changes in sleep patterns, withdrawing from activities and friends, or something else. Dominique encourages parents to take these signs seriously and don’t be afraid to seek help.
“If your child was physical ill, you would take them to an urgent care,” she said. “This is the same thing. I’m so glad we went.”
Kids in Wisconsin are experiencing a mental and behavioral health crisis, and many families are unsure how to address it with their children. That's why Children's Wisconsin is committed to helping parents and caregivers get the answers they need. To learn how you can play an active role in your child's mental and behavioral health, visit our Shine Through website.