Access to Mental Health is Diverted
This past week I attended the annual meeting of the National Council of Community Behavioral Healthcare. Promoting effective and quality care, the conference gathered an extraordinary array of providers and consumers of mental health services from around the country.
As is often the case, I leave these conferences invigorated and resolved to be evermore committed to the care we offer to all we serve. Almost 60 percent of the revenues of Hillsides’ annual operating budget is derived from mental health reimbursable services. The provision of mental health services is the greatest common denominator of care within all our programs and so it is essential to stay current with practice and trends in the delivery of care.
Because perhaps I take for granted the availability of mental health services, I was surprised to learn that only one-third of children in need of mental health care are ever treated. This kind of care denied during childhood and adolescence results in the need for mental health treatment of 50 percent of adults in care!
How is it that only one-third of children in need are treated? More likely than not, it is the result of poor diagnosis or the temptation to minimize any disorder hoping the child will “out grow it.” Even when symptoms persist, the stigma associated with mental illness is also a deterrent.
In addition to our predisposition to tolerate, ignore or minimize mental health issues of children, care is also costly, providing yet another reason to avoid treatment. This is a very dangerous combination that results in creating considerable risks for our children. Often it is early intervention and treatment that are most effective in helping children and their families to successfully address the challenges presented because of mental illness.
Beginning in July, the burden of providing mental health services for children in California shifts from the responsibility of the local Mental Health Departments to the local public school systems. Most of these school systems are poorly equipped to take on this responsibility and are lacking the funds necessary to provide the services. At least 15 of our residents will have funding curtailed because of this shift, placing in jeopardy their need for ongoing treatment. Although we may identify some resources to prolong their care for a while longer, the chances of providing needed mental health services for children who may surface in the near future is pretty grim.
When you take all this into account, is it any wonder that only one-third of children in need of treatment receive it?
School systems are inadequately funded to provide these services and are in desperate need of our support. Resources are necessary to help them meet their responsibilities to their students. Although the solution goes beyond just additional funding, every effort must be made to adequately provide our schools with the resources needed to provide the care that our children require. Failure to address our children’s mental health needs today only increases the likelihood of their suffering serious disorders as adults.