Kids and Mental Health Do We Have the Resources We Need?

The numbers tell a story I know too well. The same week as two celebrity suicides last month, the Centers for Disease Control released new data showing that the suicide rate in this country has increased by 30 percent. In 2016 alone, 45,000 lost their lives to suicide.

The state with the highest rate of suicide? Montana, where my family lived for seven years, where my son was born, where my children visit family every summer and every other Christmas. It’s where I watched my ex-husband struggle with depression, where a friend tried to take her own life and another did.

Beautiful, brutal Montana. Good thing I now live here, right? Maryland is ranked 47th out of the 50 states and has stricter gun laws, great hospitals and practitioners, as well as cutting-edge medical research into depression and related topics. “We are very lucky we have many resources in this area, so hopefully the deaths of these celebrities we have enjoyed so much will lead others to help,” I wrote on Facebook.

Almost immediately, parents reached out to correct me.

It is “almost impossible” to find a psychiatrist to evaluate a child under 18 as well as prescribe and manage their medication, wrote one Baltimore County mother, whose teenaged son has been diagnosed with depression. “And if you do find one who is accepting new patients and participates in insurance, you will wait a long time for an appointment. Like, it’s not a crisis?”

What she’s come to learn, she says, is that many reputable providers for mental health and substance abuse do not take insurance.

“You can file on your own for out of network reimbursement. Which will not be anywhere near what you paid out of pocket and another hassle while you’re in this crisis,” she says.

Laura, a Carroll County mom, encountered the same difficulties finding a psychiatrist for her teenaged daughter. After looking within a 50-mile radius of their home, she found a psychiatrist in Columbia. There was also a group practice in Frederick that had available appointments, but only with a physician’s assistant.

One way to get your child help is to call the police and have your child brought to the emergency room involuntarily. Another option is for parents to take them to the emergency room themselves, if the child will go willingly.

Once, the son of the Baltimore County mom spent five days at GBMC waiting for a bed at Sheppard Pratt. “For five days, he was told to sit or lie on a gurney and was often physically restrained and sedated. It’s barbaric,” she says. “There is a massive shortage of inpatient adolescent psych beds. I’ve talked to parents who have told me their kid waited in the ER for 17 days for a psych bed. And that’s a standard psych bed. God help you if you need a specialty like neuro psych.”

Laura says her daughter spent late Tuesday night through early Friday morning in an emergency room awaiting hospital admission. During that visit, a hospital psychiatrist only checked on her daughter once.

“No one had been checking on her to see if her mood had gotten better or worse,” Laura says. “Even if they don’t have a bed for you, they should still have a doctor come and check on you.”

“It’s just so strange,” she adds. “I just don’t think they know what to do with you.”

In general, the system is “so broken,” the other mom says. “We would never treat a cardiac patient or an oncology patient this way, thank god. There is by no stretch of the imagination parity. Although I think the general public has been led to believe that there is, as we have made improvements working toward parity, but trust me, we are a long way away.”

Sheppard Pratt Health System would like to provide more inpatient services to adolescents, but is still scouting for locations, according to a spokesperson. Here’s hoping that process will move quickly and efficiently so that local teens can get the resources they need.

In the meantime, the Maryland Coalition of Families provides a good online list of mental health resources. Check out their website at mdcoalition.org.

Have something to add on this issue? Please drop me a line at jgregg@midatlanticmedia.com.

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