5/29/23 employee experience
a day in the life of a mental health technician
For Sherryl McCorkle, every shift in the inpatient behavioral health unit is a balancing act.
When kids are admitted, the goal is to stabilize them and develop a treatment plan for when they leave in three to five days. “Sometimes you just want to hug them when you hear what they are dealing with at home and school,” says Sheryl. “But we have to maintain boundaries. If the kids get too attached to us, they won’t want to leave.”
Sherryl spends all day with the same group of patients (usually 14 to 17-year-olds), accompanying them to activities and keeping them on track with daily tasks such as schoolwork and personal hygiene. She enjoys working with the kids, especially when they take treatment seriously. Sherryl came to Dayton Children’s a few months after the unit opened in July 2019 after 11 years of working as an adult behavioral health technician. Experiences from her childhood help her relate to children dealing with trauma. Sheryl’s mother abandoned her father and brother when she was just seven years old, shaping her future career in mental health.
If a child acts out, the job can be physically dangerous as well as emotionally draining. Sherryl and her co-workers are trained to de-escalate intense situations and keep patients and each other safe.
The mental health crisis among children and adolescents can feel overwhelming at times, Sherryl says, but everyone can make a difference. “If you know a child who is struggling, you don’t need special training to care,” she says. “Just ask, ‘what can I do to help you? How can I support you?’ And listen. Sometimes that’s all a child needs in the moment.”
a busy day from start to finish
7:00 am — Sherryl begins the workday with the night shift clinical team lead to share information from the night before. Today she’s assigned to the “A-Team”—a dozen kids ages 14-17. Common diagnoses are anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Seven of the 12 kids were admitted to Dayton Children’s because they had been thinking about or planning suicide.
7:30 am - Sherryl wakes up the patients on the A unit who are still asleep. Kids eat breakfast in their rooms, get dressed and report for “goals group” at 9:00 am. During these meetings, they establish one or more therapy-related goals, such as “I will participate in all group activities” or “I will use deep breathing when I feel overwhelmed.”
9:15 am - During goals group with the A-Team, one teen refuses to set goals for the day. Sherryl tells her, “You’re here to get better, and we want to help you. I’ll give you a few minutes and come back to you.” When she does come back to her, she shares a goal of asking a staff member for help when she feels anxious during the day
10:00 am - Time for yoga. Many kids haven’t tried it before, and Sherryl joins in as the activity director teaches various poses (Sherryl’s favorite is the “warrior”). Afterward, Sherryl asks how they feel — relaxed? Anxious? Most say they feel better than they did before the class
11:00 am - Patients return to their rooms for personal time and lunch. Sherryl helps several of make the connect to call home from the unit’s public phone.
1:00 pm - Sherryl supports a patient who experienced increased anxiety during group and is taking a break in their room. The patient is using the media board to help reduce symptoms of anxiety.
2:30 pm - Peppermint, the canine co-pilot, comes to therapeutically support a patient who is anxious about their safety plan meeting.
3:30 pm - Sherryl leads a discussion about “emotional hygiene.” She begins with a video called “You Are Not Your Thoughts” that encourages kids to pay attention to their thoughts and sort through them calmly.
5:30 pm - While patients eat dinner in their rooms, Sherryl meets with one of the unit’s behavioral health therapists to talk about a child (“Ellie”) being discharged that night. Both are concerned that the child will refuse to leave.
6:30 pm - Sherryl stops by Ellie’s room to talk. She reminds Ellie about the coping skills that help Ellie relax, such as listening to music and journaling. Ellie is discharged, an hour later.
7:00 pm - Sherryl ends the work day with the night shift clinical team lead to share information from the day.
When we asked why Sherryl loved working in the behavioral health unit, she shared this.
"I absolutely love my job on the behavioral health unit at Dayton children's main campus knowing that the kids who come to us for help will one day become our future leaders drives me to go above and beyond every time I hit floor!"