When it comes to your children’s mental health, you can’t be too careful. Teens are living with a lot on their minds and can get bogged down easily. So what can you do when you suspect you need to get your child treatment? First, know that you are not alone.
Awareness of mental health issues in children continues to improve, according to professional Kathy Miller, owner and founder of Oasis: the Center for Mental Health in Annapolis. Oasis is one of many private organizations providing behavioral health services to children and adolescents. It also recently developed a dedicated Child and Adolescent Team, which provides free screening and some walk-in appointment capability, as well as advocacy and school coordination services. Miller notes that requests for help, especially in screening for potential problems, are on the rise.
The team is also aware that while a huge need exists, there is still a big gap in services, especially for children younger than five. Each age presents its own developmental challenges, and symptoms may show themselves in many ways—including withdrawal, extreme sensitivity or fearfulness, and difficulties adjusting to school. Many factors may be related to a child’s distress, including grief, trauma, parental stress, neuropsychological issues and medical conditions. Screening is important to identify a course of action, especially to help parents differentiate problematic from normal developmental progress.
So, where to turn? Resources for screening include pediatricians, who have access to a number of evidence-based screening tools, as well as knowledge of the child’s medical history. School guidance counselors are also knowledgeable about local resources and may have extra insight if they know your children well. Local health departments and each county’s mental health agency (also called community mental health centers or core service agencies) can provide referrals to various programs, such as Anne Arundel County’s Georgetown Project, which provides early intervention for kids 5 and younger, and a program for middle-school-age youngsters and transition age youth (ages 16 to 25).
If you have health insurance, it is also important to check with your insurance company for approved providers in your area. The core service agencies in most counties provide many kinds of help to those without insurance, including parent coaching, group therapy, medication, 24-hour hotlines, and mobile emergency treatment. (Below, you will find a county-by-county listing of Maryland core service agencies.)
Statistics provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Mental Health Services Administration show that 13 percent of children between 8 and 15 experience a severe mental disorder at some time in their lives, and 21 percent between ages 13 and 18. These illnesses profoundly influence the number of children who die by suicide or drug use.
That said, early diagnosis and treatment are important. Some children and teens, however, resist treatment. As do some parents, who may think a child’s behavior or mood is just a phase and may resolve without treatment. Making a decision simply to obtain screening is a good first step. Contacting an organization to arrange an appointment is daunting, and sometimes parents simply don’t know whom to call. Or maybe therapy gets started, but your child doesn’t like the therapist. Either way these agencies and practices will work with you to find a good fit. In more urgent situations, a hotline call might be helpful as an initial screening step; and in crisis events, a hospital emergency department assessment may be needed. What’s important is to remember that no parent needs to be alone in determining a child’s needs and finding help.
MAJOR AREA RESOURCES
County Core Service Agencies:
Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency, Annapolis. 410-222-7858;
Crisis Warmline: 410-768-5522; aamentalhealth.org
Baltimore Co. Department of Health,
Bureau of Behavioral Health
Howard County Mental Health Authority
Columbia 410-313-7350; hcmha.org
Prince George’s Co. Health Department Behavioral Health Services Local Behavioral Health Authority
For Baltimore City and all other Maryland counties, visit Maryland Association of Mental Health Authorities at
Maryland Crisis Hotline Network: 211
National Alliance on Mental Illness:
Maryland Coalition of Families for Children’s Mental Health: 410-730-8267; mdcoalition.org
Youth Crisis Hotline: 800-422-0009
Anne Arundel Counseling
Annapolis, Glen Burnie & Edgewater, 410-768-5988
Oasis, the Center for Mental Health
Annapolis, 410-571-0888; oasismentalhealth.net