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A Family’s Struggle for Mental Health Care

Monday, January 18, 2010 at 9:24 AM

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As part of ideastream's special coverage this month on depression, today we hear about a single mother from Akron about her experience navigating the mental health care system for her son. Their journey highlights the medical, financial and social challenges faced by the mentally ill. Kathryn Baker produced this report.

COOK: My son Alex is ten years-old and when he was five we took him to the doctor, to a psychologist and he was diagnosed with depression.

BAKER: Marjorie’s Cook’s son is one of the 240,000 children in Ohio who need mental health services; unfortunately only half of those children get treatment according to the Mental Health Advocacy Coalition.  Alex is not your average ten year-old, his illness is severe and has been since he was a tot. 

COOK: A couple times he went in the drawer and brought me a knife and he would say please just kill me, just please kill me and you know when you have a five and a six year-old doing that you know something isn’t right.

BAKER: Alex takes two different medications daily - one to stabilize his mood and one to act as an anti-depressant.  He is under the care of a psychiatrist, a counselor, a case manager and he is enrolled in a special school that blends education and mental health services.  This elaborate treatment plan is working--- five years, four doctors, six medications and seven schools later.  Findling, a psychiatrist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center says this is not unusual.

FINDLING: There’s a stigma to wanting to see a psychiatrist whether you’re an adult or a parent looking for help for your youngster.

COOK: If I tell someone my son has a mental health issue they kind of get a wide eyed look at you and they don’t know what to say. 

BAKER: Again, Alex’s mom, Marjorie Cook.

COOK: I’ve even tried out saying things like well my son has a brain injury or he has a brain disorder and people seem much more willing to accept that. 

FINDLING: Depression is a disorder of how peoples’ moods are regulated just like diabetes is a disorder of sugar regulation and it should be thought of in the exact same way. Treatments are available but you can’t treat people you can’t find and you can’t treat people if they are ashamed to seek help.

BAKER: Cook has a private insurance policy through her employer which allocates Alex 30 mental health visits per year.  That’s above average access as plans go.  But because Alex’s illness requires more than the 30 visits insurance will pay for, his mom buys supplemental coverage.  This is one way mental illness, historically, has been treated differently from physical illness.  But recent federal and state legislation aims to remedy this.  The Ohio law says those with mental illness are entitled to the same level of coverage as those with physical illness.  Anne Jewel from the Ohio Department of Insurance says this should equal the playing field.

JEWEL: The goal of the federal parity law was to try to get people to think of mental health and physical health as total health that we don’t make a distinction between the two but instead start thinking of the health of the total body.  The diseases of the mind affect the body, diseases of the body affect the mind.

BAKER: But “parity” is not fully up and running.  Specific rules to define what constitutes parity and how that would affect families like the Cooks, have not been written yet.  Alex’s mother says her son is doing well now that he has found the correct treatment and school environment.

COOK: I am planning now for a college education, he’s talking about going to college.  That’s something we never would have even considered talking about a year ago.

BAKER: Kathryn Baker 90.3.

Tags

Health, Facing Depression

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