Sunday, October 27, 2013

Children and the Mental Health Epidemic

Kids and Mental Health:

This week, there were two tragic stories in the news here in New England. A 24 year old Math teacher was killed by a 14 year old student in Danvers, MA and in another incident, a teenager from NH tried to kill his mother, after she withheld his ADHD medicine because she was concerned it was making him violent. (Sounds like she was right.)

I'm a member of an ADHD parents support group on Facebook and I have to say, after hearing stories like the above and seeing posts by other parents, I'm starting to be really afraid. I'm afraid that serious mental health issues in kids is on the rise yet resources and treatment options are not.

According to the Center for Disease Control, there are currently 5.2 million children diagnosed with ADHD. This number has risen dramatically. The number of parent-reported cases of ADHD increased 22% from 2003-2007, the last year for which I could find data.

That means that there is an increase of 22% of kids requiring medical care, additional school resources  and overall special care from caregivers who have not been trained to deal with the symptoms that these kids exhibit. Meanwhile, budgets are tighter than ever so schools are doing more with less and healthcare costs as always continue to skyrocket. Medical providers are overwhelmed, which I know about all too well. It took us eight months to get an appointment at Children's Hospital and literally, all they did was give us a prescription and ask me to check in again in three months. Seriously, I waited eight months for that?

Also, the best treatments for a child are often not covered by health insurance providers so kids are given medication that doesn't best address their issues. This means there could be serious side effects that as I mentioned above, could have serious results. My son is covered by MassHealth so I'm lucky in that respect. But other parents in the Facebook support group have private insurance and say that their prescriptions cost $150 a month and that's for Ritalin. They can't even get Metadate (my son's medication) because their insurance doesn't cover it. 

Last but not least is the lack of funding for mental health research on children. Kids brains are still developing until they are seven years old. Then of course they continue to grow and hormonal fluctuations kick in which could also affect their mental health. The current diagnosis for ADHD consists of two different people checking off boxes on a checklist (the Vanderbilt Diagnostic Parent Rating Scale). If those two different people pretty much say the same thing, then a diagnosis of ADHD is given.

Unfortunately the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder mimic the symptoms of ADHD so it's difficult to determine which illness the child has without a trial and error approach. This means that the doctor prescribes a stimulant to the child and if it works, the kid has ADHD. If it doesn't work, the child probably has something else. As you can imagine, the number of ADHD mis-diagnoses is really high. This could have tragic results.

Earlier this week I was reading posts on the Facebook ADHD page and there was a mom out of her mind, not knowing what to do because her 10-year-old daughter was threatening to kill herself. No one else on this page knew what to do for her but I finally chimed in and told this complete stranger to call her daughter's doctor's after hours emergency number immediately. Thank God she listened and now her daughter has been hospitalized. Holy cow, the last thing I want to read on Facebook is that some woman's child has killed herself but what if I hadn't said anything? What would she have done? I can imagine she's overwhelmed but this could have had a very tragic ending if I, a total stranger, didn't tell her what to do. I don't want that kind of responsibility!

A coworker told me this week that her sister in law has a son that's bipolar and that she has had a knife to her throat on more than one occasion because bipolar kids can be violent, thanks to medication and its terrible side effects. Another parent on the Facebook page wrote one day to say her son woke her and her husband up in the middle of the night, standing at the side of the bed with a knife hovering over her husband. WHAT THE HELL!

When kids are young, you are stronger than they are but what about when they get older and they become stronger than you? That's when you end up with the case of the woman from NH who was stabbed by her son. And that is when you end up with a case like Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT. Terrible, terrible.

I'm not kidding when I say I think our mental health epidemic is going to get worse before it gets better. Until we as a nation decide to spend more money on research and treatment of mental health disorders in children, we are going to have more news stories like the above. Considering I have a school age child, it pretty much scares the daylights out of me knowing so many of these tragedies are happening at school. 

So how do we make change? I really have no idea. I wish I did.

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