In Twin Cities, kids in crisis often can’t get mental health help

Over the weekend, my wife helped NAMI MN deliver Christmas presents to a few mental health units at area hospitals and dropped this bombshell on me afterwards: At one hospital alone, there were 52 children inpatients. But there is a waiting list of 13 kids who are in mental health crisis. There aren’t enough beds to allow them to receive the help they need.

We tell people, especially children, that all they have to do is ask for help. It’s the big lie.

If there’s a story that should be holding the attention of news organizations, prompting people to hit the streets in protest, and sending politicians scurrying for the stage to decry the situation, that’s it.

Instead, crickets. This isn’t a new situation.

Why does it persist?

Over the weekend, the Grand Forks Herald carried a story suggesting the stigma surrounding mental health is easing somewhat, leading people to ask for such help.

“People are becoming more aware of mental health treatment and are accepting mental health treatment,” a manager of an outpatient clinic said. “Awareness of the benefits of treatment is increasing.”

He’s probably right, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The reason people aren’t getting help isn’t entirely because they don’t want it or don’t ask for it. It’s because we’re a society that’s entirely comfortable with not making it available, and then wondering how things happen that happen, almost as if we don’t know.

Mass media coverage of horrific events, such as mass shootings by psychologically troubled gunmen that have shocked the nation, probably sets the stigma issue back, he said.

“The stigma is that people with mental illness are dangerous,” he said.

Dewald said social stigma prevents people from seeking help.

“They worry about their neighbors or members of the community thinking, ‘are they going to be dangerous now because they’re getting mental health treatment?'” he said.

That stigma is evident to Johnson when it comes to efforts to build housing for those suffering from mental disease or related disorders.

Some people maintain the “not in my backyard” viewpoint, she said. They may think people with mental illness are more violent than people who don’t have it, Johnson said.

“In reality, people with mental illness are more likely to be the target of violence rather than perpetrating violence,” she said.

Though true, it’s probably going to be a tough sell in the wake of the weekend assassination of two NYPD officers by a man who clearly was deranged.

But that waiting list? That’s real.

Your move.

  • Kassie

    So what is the issue? Is it that insurance and/or Medicaid/Medicare doesn’t reimburse high enough to make it effective for hospitals to have crisis care? Or are there not enough providers? There is a comment about “not in my backyard” but is it really an issue of physical space? I’d like to urge my legislators to fix this, but I don’t know what the actual problem is.

    • Click the link above, spending an hour or so reading all the stories.

      • Kassie

        Well, me spending an hour reading antidotes and trying to do the analysis to figure out what the root problem is isn’t going to happen. So I guess I’ll do nothing. I figured someone might have a white paper or recommendation from a non-profit or something.

        • The word you’re looking is anecdotes. I don’t know what you want. The stories very clinically laid out and contained the answers you said earlier you were looking for in an intellectual way. They also contained a list of solutions.

          Whether you wish to disregard that because it hasn’t been put in the correct memo form is your choice.

          You work at DHS, don’t you? I’ll bet someone there will tell you in the format of your choosing.

          • Kassie

            I don’t work for DHS, haven’t in over a year. And pointing out a error like that, what good does that do? You could have just fixed it.

            Did you put the information out there because you wanted people to attempt to make changes? I was looking for more information before contacting my legislators and you tell me to do hours of research and pull personal connections to find the information. Being that I had 15 minutes all day to be on the internet, I have a life, and it is the holiday season, I’m not going to do that. You clearly care a lot about this. I care a bit about this. Instead of making fun if my spelling, putting incorrect information about my life on the internet and pretending this is my personal flaw, you could answer the questions and give me some info I can pass on to my legislators.

          • I don’t have any ability to fix your comments.

            You don’t have to do hours of research. You could read one story and you’d have something to talk to your legislator about if that’s what you wish to do.

            Happy holidays!

  • Thomas Mercier

    It isn’t a youth specific problem. My wife used to be frustrated when trying to place clients in mental health situations. Sometimes the only open options were situations that were likely to make the client’s state worse due to the proximity of other individuals who would have had a negative impact on their situation.

  • HaroldAMaio

    —-Mass media coverage of horrific events, such as mass
    shootings by psychologically troubled gunmen that have shocked the nation,
    probably sets the stigma issue back, he said.

    —-“The stigma is that people with mental illness are
    dangerous,” he said.

    —-Dewald said social stigma prevents people
    from seeking help.

    —-That stigma is evident to Johnson when it
    comes to efforts to build housing for those suffering from mental disease or
    related disorders.

    It is far from amusing to call prejudice and
    discrimination “stigma.” It is also irresponsible of public radio.

    —-“In reality, people with mental illness
    are more likely to be the target of violence rather than perpetrating violence,”
    she said.

    That statement can be made of any group,
    including NPR employees.

    Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor

    • It’s been so long since we’ve heard from you, Harold, we were wondering if you were OK. Nice to hear from you again.

      And it’s “MPR,” not “NPR”

      • HaroldAMaio

        NPR is the national organization of which you are a part.

        The language you employ has not improved, and I, of course, wonder why it has not.

        I think I can offer a partial answer: You are part of a culture that influences what you say.

        As I once directed “the stigma of…”rape, and “the” Blacks, without thought to what I was doing, so you repeat without personally thinking. As comfortable was I, are you.

        One hopes, that you, like I, begin to appreciate what your misrepresentations do.

        Until then, each time they appear, I will respond.

        • Over the years, I think we’ve all gotten the message what your perspective is on the subject. But it’s really only that, Harold. Your perspective.

          That doesn’t make it a fact, of course. But it’s interesting reading, a valued perspective, and always good to hear from you.

          • HaroldAMaio

            I suppose to some degree directing a “stigma” amuses, unless of course it is aimed at you, then the sting is unmistakable.
            You have a platform to direct your prejudice widely. public radio. That prejudice has been removed from SAMHSA’s site. SAMHSA is the federal mental health agency. They have taken a stance you are loathe to.
            khmaio@earthlink.net

          • Interesting. I get 1,270 results for “stigma” when I search SAMHSA.

          • HaroldAMaio

            I have e-mailed SAMHSA for an answer.

  • tlk

    I work for a crisis stabilization and assessment unit for adolescents and we are sitting here with 12 beds open. I am confused as to why there is a wait list when there are beds open.

    • Kathleen Sullivan

      Bob,

      Thanks to your wife and NAMI for their generosity!

      I also work for a crisis stabilization unit, which is incredibly helpful and not full now. Where did your numbers come from?

      I’m concerned for kids and families to think that it’s “a lie” that they can access help. Teens and families, we are here for you. – Kathleen

      P.S. Responsible mental health professionals do not turn families away. We refer them to appropriate services.

      • We’re talking pediatric beds and it is true that kids in crisis can often not get beds. It was just 5 or so years ago they’d be transported out to Fargo. There are also some hospitals you just DON’T want to send your kid to in crisis, and a handful that you do. But it’s very tough to find beds in pediatric mental health in the Twin Cities.

        As far as longer term treatment is concerned, what are you finding for length of time it takes for an average person calling today to get an appointment for services?

        • Kathleen Sullivan

          Thanks for your reply, Bob. I am most familiar with adolescent services. When a teen is discharging from a hospital stay, families obtain outpatient therapy appointments within 7 days. It’s our standard, and that of insurers. I encourage parents to contact their insurance provider if waits are more than a week, as they can typically help.