A growing number of experts have deemed children's mental health a crisis. Emergency room admissions are skyrocketing, while the number of available providers is lagging far behind. In a live-streamed conversation hosted by Side Effects Public Media and Well Beings, a national campaign to destigmatize the issue, reporter Carter Barrett spoke with experts to get their advice for parents and teens.
The Well Beings Tour aims to address the critical health needs in America through broadcast programs, online content and local events. The multi-year campaign brings together partners to raise awareness and provide mental health resources.
In partnership with Well Beings, Side Effects compiled a list of local and national mental health resources that are available here.
Panelists on the live stream included:
- Denise Senter, a private practitioner and licensed mental health clinician with more than 30 years of experience serving families and children and director of mental health and clinical services at Reach for Youth, which provides mental health and youth services to central Indiana youth and their families.
- Julie Hill, the 2022 Indiana High School Counselor of the Year.
- Ashtyn Robertson, a young adult presenter with National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The conversation has been shortened for clarity and brevity.
Carter Barrett: We know that during 2020, mental health-related ER visits among 12-17 year olds increased 31 percent compared to the year before. At the same time, there’s a massive shortage of mental health providers. What are you seeing in your workplaces?
Denise Senter: So I know that in my own work, I cannot manage all of the demand or requests for the services … And when you're dealing with people who have more immediate needs, a wait that long can be detrimental. So I think the demand is very high … I think that as service providers, we have a responsibility to find ways to meet that demand. The people who need mental health are not failing, the systems that are set to provide those services are failing.
Julie Hill: Everybody is just operating above capacity right now. And it is very hard, particularly like in outpatient services, we know families that wind up going hundreds of miles from home to the only available bed … then school counselors are trying to sort of fill that gap and just provide those support services, but we are not qualified to provide that level of therapy.
Barrett: You discussed there are waitlists, but what other barriers are people facing while seeking mental health treatment?
Senter: So I think insurance, accessibility, affordability, are three types of serious barriers to mental health … I think one of the benefits of COVID was in the ability of systems or the necessity for systems to adapt. And one of the adaptations was in providing services virtually, and that I think, greatly increased the accessibility of mental health services and other medical services to young people and to families who needed them.
Barrett: Ashytn, I know that you've experienced roadblocks while seeking your own mental health treatment. I mean, would you be willing to tell us about your experience?
Ashtyn Robertson: One of those main things is definitely stigma ... But that was absolutely huge. Just not having that conversation, that it's normal to go to therapy. And, you know, just feeling that fear that I'm so different from my peers that I'm kind of carrying around this burden of a secret kind of, in a way.
Barrett: Julie, I wanted to ask you, what changes do you think could help families get connected with treatment?
Hill: So I think, first we've got to really look at some systemic changes ... I think it's so important that we get more counselors in the schools, particularly at those lower grade levels, who are doing those proactive activities, as opposed to only reactive … If we can do a better job of equipping our young people with those skills, they are then better equipped to navigate the conflicts, the challenges that life is inevitably going to throw at them. So I think we've got to start there.
Barrett: Ashtyn, what would be your advice to teenagers struggling with their mental health, and to their parents?
Robertson: I would just say, really try to reach out to people who, you know, will support you ... And then, for parents, I just think the number one thing — and of course, I'm not a parent — but I think it's so powerful just to validate, validate, validate.
Watch the entire conversation here.
This story comes from Side Effects Public Media — a public health news initiative based at WFYI. Follow Carter on Twitter: @carter_barrett.