May is dedicated to mental health care. As a psychotherapist who specializes in treating teenagers, I have seen how teenagers and their parents do not receive the access to the mental health care they deserve. Hopefully this article will explain what teenagers and their parents currently deal with and the changes that we need.
We often hear parents complain that their teenager is driving them crazy or a teenager complaining how unfair their parents are to live with on a daily basis. However, there are another set of complaints that get ignored on a routine basis. The complaints that get ignored are parents begging for mental health care for their teen or a teen crying out for help by cutting themselves or running away.
Many of us assume that if a parent wants mental health care help for their teen or if a teen needs help, all either one of them has to do is ask for help. Unfortunately, this is not how our world works.
It is very common for parents to ask everyone they can think of for help for their teenager and the only answer they get is, “I am sorry we cannot help you or your child.”
It is also not uncommon for teens to ask for help by admitting to someone that they are feeling suicidal and the teen is told stop being so dramatic or “sorry there is nothing we can do for you, but try calling this number.”
Some of you may assume that I must be exaggerating, but I am not. I have had many parents beg me to see their child because no one has any appointments or they don’t deal with teen issues. When I interview the parents, they have been every where asking for help, but no one has offered any help or referred them to someone else because they don’t deal with their child’s issues.
For example, one Thanksgiving I had a mother have my answering service page me and she was begging me for help because her teen was suicidal. I was referred her to the mother by the County hospital because the County hospital said they had no room for her son. When speaking to the mother it was obvious the teenager needed to be hospitalized. When I asked her why her son was not in the hospital, she again told me the County hospital gave her my telephone number because they had no more beds for suicidal teenagers. No one in the system cared what she was dealing with and how concerned she was about her son.
Again, some people might believe this is an isolated case. Sadly this is not an isolated case. I specialize in treating suicidal and bipolar teens. There have been a number of times I have sent a suicidal teen by ambulance from my office to the County hospital only to have the teen released in less than an hour because the hospital had no beds. I had one person on the Psychiatric Crises Unit tell me on the telephone unless the person had a shotgun in their mouth not to send them to the Hospital because they had no beds for suicidal teens.
Now, some of you may assume the situation would be different if the teen had private insurance because I have been referring to the County Hospital. If you are thinking having private insurance would make a difference, you are wrong. I have had many private insurance companies deny my request to authorize additional therapy sessions for a suicidal teenager. When I remind the insurance that the teen is suicidal and needs therapy to prevent them from acting on their feeling, they often say to refer them to a community counseling center. When I remind them that most non-profit counseling centers have closed due to the economy they simply say sorry they have exhausted their benefits and they will no longer cover their treatment.
This puts the therapist in a difficult position. Do you just discharge the teen or do you continue to treat the teen for a low fee or for free? When 1 out of 5 teens have a psychological condition that needs treatment, what do you do when treatment is denied or there are no treatment options? Also, when you examine the results further you find that teens who need therapy but fail to receive it are more likely to get involved with drugs, crime, are more likely to drop out of school, more likely to get pregnant or father a child and that child is more likely to become a foster child. These teens are also more likely to end up on probation, homeless and on welfare.
As a society we do not place much emphasis on mental health care. Mental health care programs are always some of the first programs cut when the budget is cutback. In fact if you look at the recent cut backs due to the Congress not balancing the budget, mental health programs were some of the first programs to be cut.
I find it very interesting that Contra Costa County had enough money to build a new Juvenile Hall, which is three times the size of the old Juvenile Hall, but there was not enough money to fund a large number of mental health services which had to be cut.
We often look at teens who are acting out and blame their parents. We ask why don’t they get their child the help they need? What stops them from helping their teenager? Why is the teen always getting involved with drugs or not going to school? The answer could be because the teen needs mental health care and the parents have been and continue to try to get their teen help but their is no help. The teen may be acting out because they are tired of asking for help and being in pain so they start looking for the easiest way out of pain.
If we want our teenagers to grow up to become productive members of society then we need to provide them with the mental health care they need. If we want parents to be responsible parents then we need to provide parents options for how to get their teens help when they ask for it.
What can we do? We can write our Congressmen and Senators and demand that they fund community mental health centers. We can also demand that private insurance companies be required to offer teenagers and their families adequate mental health benefits based on what professional therapists are recommending. The professional treating the child knows what the child needs not some clerical worker with a Bachelors degree who is answering phone calls at the insurance company.
In short, if we want our teenagers to survive their teen years we all need to act together and demand that our children receive the treatment they need and deserve. Private insurance companies make huge profits and drive the cost of health care up based on how they do business. If we don’t start to speak up for our kids, they will never receive the care they need. Look at your next pay stub and look at how much you pay for health insurance and compare that to the benefits you receive.
Dr. Michael Rubino has over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. If you would like more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com.