We Needed Better Mental Health Services for Kids *Before* COVID-19
Some genes you pass along to your children. Hair color, whether they have freckles, if they are left-handed, just like you. And some of these genes are those that have been passed along from your parents or even grandparents. I always hate the family history questions on the endless number of forms I complete whenever we see a new mental healthcare provider. Everyone asks the questions and we already know that the experts see a link between current symptoms and past family diagnosis. But that’s about it.
Oh, your grandmother and aunt had depression? Well, easy to see how you do as well.
You have a family member who has a suspected mood disorder? Hmmm, well, your child is young for a concrete diagnosis, but that information means it’s not out of the question.
We live in a time where we can clone sheep but we still cannot seem to do anything significant about the mass amounts of mental health issues that are being passed along through family lineage. No amount of apologies could make up for the fact that I feel responsible for passing along depression to my children. I still struggle with it and so, dear child, will you, throughout these years. We may talk about it more, we may claim there is no shame in asking for help. But the sad fact is that it feels we are no closer to a real solution than the years of therapy we ask you to put in and the countless pills you may need to try until you find something to help.
And, even then, it won’t be a cure full-stop. It will most likely make it bearable to make it through the day without wanting to completely crawl out of your skin. And boy, oh boy, will you have a laundry list of coping mechanisms you will need to perform along with a list of environmental triggers to avoid. Most of which, by the way, will involve things you literally have to do in order to make some semblance of a life in our society. Hold a job. Interact with other people. Control your feelings. Get enough sleep. Exercise and eat healthy food. And on and on and on it goes…
Oh, and by the way, this will probably be the way things are for you, most likely, for the rest. Of. Your. Life. It’s enough to make you feel tired as soon as you wake up in the morning. Hey, being a human is a lot. And being a human with mental health issues is fucking exhausting. I get tired of my own self just thinking about it.
And, ah, here we go into the era of COVID-19. If you didn’t think you were dealing with a shit show before? Get ready, my friend! You are in for a bumpy-ass ride.
“Children who were struggling before [the pandemic] are at higher risk now,” says psychologist Robin Gurwitch, a professor at Duke University Medical Center. “You have to be careful about kids who were already in mental-health services; we have to make sure services aren’t disrupted.”
Do you have any idea how many phone calls I make on a weekly basis to try and get my kid’s services from being disrupted without the crisis of a worldwide pandemic? Do you understand that many kids in the U.S. receive their so-called “mental health services” through their school? Which, by the way, is ludicrous considering how taxed our educators and school administrators already are, without a flipping worldwide pandemic to contend with. Now we expect them to act as counselors, case managers and experts in the field of mental health, too?
The TIME article, like most articles on mental health that are spewed into the mass-media, offers zero concrete solutions. It merely ends with some advice: stop consuming so much coverage of the pandemic. Encourage open communication in your family. Offer children positive ways in which everyone can approach the challenges you currently face.
CNN, Psychology Today, ChildMind.org and BBC.com also offer versions along the same thread. “The effects of the pandemic are damaging to children and the effects will likely be felt over the span of a lifetime.” Parents should just “use their network of resources to get through this difficult time — set up a virtual game night, prayer group, happy hour.” Some hint at the need to establish better resources, yet none of them offer real solutions for finding a way out of this labyrinth that existed long before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.
That’s great! Just what we need! More ridiculously, over-simplified nuggets of information that nearly every news article on mental health loves to throw at you in attempts at covering an extremely complicated issue. And guess what? If you or your child is struggling with a true mental illness or having an actual mental health crisis? (Not just the general “COVID-induced sadness, because life as-we-know-it has been such a bummer for months now”) Let’s face it: no amount of lavender-scented, self-care B.S. in the form of a handy-dandy checklist is going to save you from the demons that most definitely are going to consume your child if you don’t fight like hell to help them. And that means some serious mental health support, therapy, doctors and, oftentimes, daily medication.
So guess what I have to say to all of this?
Knock. It. Off. I don’t need any more sound-bites about how children’s mental health is being impacted by this pandemic. I am literally living it. I don’t need another expert with tons of credentials spouting his statistics about how they have studied this and that and wow! Isn’t it awful how many kids are struggling right now? And how many more will struggle as this virus continues to affect every aspect of our daily life?
Yeah. No shit.
You know what all of us need? What we have needed for a long time? Help. Real help. Actual changes to the system. Affordable therapy. Better medication with less side effects. Child psychiatrists without a minimum three month waiting list and an over-priced, 20 minute visit once a month. Insurance that actually covers mental health services. All services — not just some. Programs and solutions that don’t break us financially. In-patient services that don’t scar our already traumatized and emotionally fragile children. Because, let’s face it: some of the kids in these places have been “in” so many times they suffered further pain from simply being locked up every time they can no longer cope. Only to be discharged back into society to swim against the tide yet again, grasping for solutions that really only gloss over the problem.
Yeah, yeah, I get it.
I sound like a jaded, angry, overly-emotional parent to you, right?
Because it’s people like me that are going to fight, tooth and nail, for better mental health services in this country. And here’s hoping you and your family will never, ever have to come close to the horrors some of us experience dealing with “the system” every damn day. Worldwide pandemic or not. We’re still going to be here, slogging through it all. Exhausted but determined in every phone call we make, every therapist we see, every case management meeting we attend, and every single doctor we repeat our child’s mental health history to.
Again. And again.
But if you do find yourself in my shoes?
Well, then. All I can hope is that just a sliver of this fight that I’m in makes a difference.
For my kid. And for yours, too.
Getty image via CentralITAlliance