In a recent year nearly 2,000 youth under the age of 14 in the greater Kansas City area were hospitalized with mental health disorders. In that same year nearly 4,000 youth ages 15-24 were also hospitalized with mental health disorders.
What is even more alarming is that every year thousands of youth are turned away from receiving the mental health care treatments they need because of a funding shortfall. And the waiting list to receive services can take anywhere from four weeks to four months.
By creating a Children’s Services Fund we can actively work to strengthen families and protect children. One of the many ways this can be accomplished is by providing more mental health resources and services to youth and families who are desiring care.
In January the Children’s Services Fund Coalition had Pierson Phillips speak to a group of community leaders about his journey with mental health and the efforts it took for his family to find the right care and services for him.
Our Journey with Mental Health Care by Hilaire Phillips
My son first saw a therapist when he was 8 years old due to a bullying incident at his school. We decided to seek her out because we were concerned that he seemed so upset and fearful and that he wasn’t getting any better at handling the situation. She was very helpful and told us with no uncertainty that he had some clinical issues that affected him, but also told us to think long and hard before labelling him. My son, Pierson, is diagnosed with Autism Level 1, Tourette Syndrome, OCD, and Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures. These are not labels, they are his diagnoses.
The beginning of our journey with mental health care began on shaky ground. This was because too many people, that we as parents assumed we could trust to help guide us, were more concerned with what they called labels. Teachers, friends, his therapist, and even one of his doctors all told us to think long and hard before seeking actual help. The most difficult hurdle we have had has been the perception that a mental illness or a disability will somehow not exist if we simply ignore it. Fortunately, I didn’t take their advice. Unfortunately, finding the right help was much more difficult than I thought it would be.
Tourette Syndrome is the diagnosis that the world gets to see when they see my son, but it’s the mental illnesses that really affect his daily life. Pierson has spent this past year being homeschooled so we could focus on finding the right medications to manage his illnesses and also because his mental illness impacted his life so much that he has complete days that have been spent just getting by. PNES, Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures, is a not so well known or understood mental illness. Simply stated, he has what looks like a seizure due to mental distress.
Pierson is now 11 years old and I have just in the past 2 months found him a psychiatrist and therapist who are trained to help him with his specific diagnoses. His neurologist explained to me that there is a shortage of people in these fields who are trained to help children and Federal health authorities have designated about 4,000 areas in the U.S. as having a shortage of mental health professionals – areas with more than 30,000 people per psychiatrist. So we are not the only family spending so much time searching for help.
Early intervention is important for a successful outcome and puberty can make mental illness even more difficult and magnified. This makes finding help even more imperative. It has taken us 3 years to get my son’s treatment plan put in place. It has been frustrating. It has been difficult. It shouldn’t have been those things, but it was. As Pierson will tell you, the most important thing we have done is to listen to him. We heard his cries for help and we recognized them for what they were; we didn’t give up in spite of the difficulties we faced in finding him help. When it comes to advice, Pierson says it best, “Ignore the stigma and the shame and most of all, don’t give up.”
How can you help?
Help protect tens of thousands of young lives – and save millions of dollars in future costs – in Jackson and Clay counties by choosing The Children’s Services Fund on November 8th.