The slight 13-year-old in an oversized white shirt sits at a round table in a sparse conference room at his school on the Southwest Side.
Randy Sadler, a paramedic of sorts for kids in emotional distress, sits across from the boy and says he has some questions. The boy’s dark brown bangs hang over his eyes. His mother and two adults from his school are there, too.
“Do you feel suicidal at this moment?” Sadler asks, telling the boy it’s OK no matter what his answer is.
He has in the past, the boy admits, but not right now.
Sadler probes a little deeper, knowing the boy told the counselor he had been suicidal. He asks: “Do you have a plan? Are you anxious?”
The weight is on Sadler to make a potentially life-or-death decision: Is this child safe to go home?
Every day in Illinois, specialists like Sadler are called in to schools, hospitals and homes to make these decisions. They’re on the front lines of the state’s child mental health crisis. Simmering for years, it’s been supercharged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
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