To the Editor:
It’s the same story, over and over again.
As an advocate for youth, I give presentations to parents, counselors, and other professionals about mental wellness resources for our community’s children, teens, and young adults. I have made it my business to connect them to needed resources and therapy in order to prevent and address depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
Every time I meet a new group of concerned adults, I hear the same story: “Our insurance is not connecting us to a therapist who can treat the person in need. The in-network providers don’t work with kids his age, they don’t treat his condition, they have a waiting list, or they don’t accept insurance or work with Medicaid clients at all.”
According to the Surgeon General and SAMHSA, 1 in 5 kids has a mental or behavioral health problem, and of those, only 1 in 5 gets the treatment he or she needs. The most troubled kids, those with aggression, delusions, or antisocial characteristics, can be the most difficult and expensive to treat. Yet, as parents are telling me every chance they get, few of the providers qualified to address these types of behaviors are accessible for parents who can’t pay the hourly fees of $300-$500 out-of-pocket, or $15,000 - $25,000 per year. That’s most of them.
In these times of economic hardship, budgets for such “extras” as mental health programs have been slashed everywhere, and American families are expected to absorb the cost when they, too, have fewer resources at their disposal.
Let me be clear: by refusing to guarantee that those who need treatment receive it, and by placing other budgetary priorities above the care that these youth and young adults need, we are ensuring that serious emotional and mental disturbances go unaddressed. And while the typical sufferer of depression or anxiety is no more dangerous than you or I, the small fraction of the mentally ill who we consider profoundly disturbed are much more likely to be aggressive or even commit mass violence. Don’t we want to do everything we can to address serious mental illness in its earliest stages?
The signs that a child may have a serious problem are often there even at preschool age, and a preponderance of evidence shows that early intervention is key. We must adjust our course, and do everything we can to ensure that we provide needed care for troubled youth and young adults, not to mention the supports their families need to cope. This must be our highest priority if we are to provide a safe, healthy environment for all of our children.