According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012) suicide claims 4,600 lives per year as the 3rd leading cause of death among children and adolescents ages 10-24 in the U.S. Severe, untreated mental illness is often the cause. Following the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, severe or untreated mental health problems have not become a serious enough discussion among parents, researchers, and professionals. Sadly, this topic has become secondary to arguments against gun and violent video game restrictions. Most would agree these topics are important and require serious, in-depth discussions. Mental illness is a serious problem among our society today, especially our youth. Adolescents and young children are entering treatment at younger ages. As children and teens struggle with mental health, families and caregivers often struggle with getting their child into treatment.
Families find it difficult to accept a mental health diagnosis, deal with the shock or grief, and encourage their children to enter treatment. During this time, many walk blindly through the system, unaware of their rights or what to expect. School-aged children and adolescents are often fearful of stigma, losing friends, feeling different, and bonding with their therapist. The mental health system can be extremely intimidating for those unaware of what to expect. I often recommend that parents or caretakers research the type of therapist they are pursuing, the type of treatment, the success rate of the treatment, and the typical length of treatment.
There are a few things families can do to make the process of seeking services a bit easier:
- Learn about your child’s diagnosis: Many families are unaware of how important it is to become and stay knowledgeable about a diagnosis. Families and caregivers can empower themselves through education. A diagnosis can be extremely stressful for families and require great emotional endurance. The last thing you want to be is confused and unaware of what that diagnosis entails.While I recommend you design a list of questions to ask your doctor or therapist, there are reputable places online to research a diagnosis as well: WebMD, PsychCentral, MentalHelp, or NAMI.
- Learn about the law: When I encourage parents to check the laws of their state in regards to mental health treatment, many become overwhelmed. That is understandable. Anything relating to the law can be stressful and sometimes, just simply confusing! However, there are organizations that have made the law easier to understand. Visit the Treatment Advocacy Center for more information.
- Connect with others who care: Engaging with social services can be a very stressful endeavor. It is great when you can enlist support from family, friends, or local support groups.
- Know your civil commitment law for emergencies: Every individual should have some idea of how their state law affects access to treatment. For example, in Pennsylvania, it can be difficult to have an individual committed for inpatient treatment if that individual is not a threat to him/herself or others. Sadly, families have been turned away, despite the individual having multiple delusions or a family feeling threatened. Sometimes families are turned away because there aren't enough beds!
As a result of poor commitment laws, advocacy groups have begun to push states to enact laws to enforce what is known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT). Only 44 states currently enforce AOT. Learn more about AOT laws here.
Dealing with treatment-resistant kids
Many families also believe their children cannot resist treatment until legal age. “Legal age” to make mental health decisions vary by state and many kids are able to make mental health decisions before age 18. In the state of Pennsylvania, if a youth is 14 years of age and doesn’t want treatment, they have the legal right to reject it. AOT would reduce this type of situation because treatment would be court-ordered.
Similarly, it may be necessary to have an honest discussion with your child or adolescent about the importance of mental health treatment. You want to emphasize that therapy is a form of emotional support. Other topic areas may include discussing that:
- There is a high chance that therapy can help stabilize symptoms
- Medication can be prescribed and adjusted appropriately
- There are multiple forms of treatment and types of therapists to pursue
- Art and music are often incorporated into therapy with children and teens
- No one has to know you are pursuing treatment but you
The purpose of an honest discussion is to encourage that child or adolescent to have an open mind. A simple consultation with a potential therapist may be all you need to encourage the acceptance of treatment.
Therapy can be a positive endeavor, especially when the right therapist is found. Locate a therapist in your area by going to TherapyTribe. You can visit my website or blog to read more about state reforms suggested by the Treatment Advocacy Center for AOT laws.
I wish you all the best!
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Suicide Prevention: Youth Suicide. Retrieved January 15, 2012 from, http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pub/youth_suicide.html.
Treatment Advocacy Center. (2012). Know the laws in your state. Retrieved January 15, 2013, from http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/get-help/know-the-laws-in-your-state.