Children’s mental health report finds less stigma, more recognition
WILLMAR -- Parents, children and professionals involved in the Kandiyohi County children's mental health system say there's reason to feel optimistic about the system.
WILLMAR - Parents, children and professionals involved in the Kandiyohi County children’s mental health system say there’s reason to feel optimistic about the system.
Professionals and parents who participated in a series of focus group meetings this past year said they’re seeing less stigma surrounding mental health and more recognition that children can and do have mental health disorders.
They felt positive about the increasing number of children’s mental health services that are available and the focus on early intervention and family inclusiveness.
Among the youths themselves, the vast majority reported having parents who loved them and people in their lives who view them as capable of accomplishing things.
But there’s still progress to be made, representatives of a five-county local advisory council on children’s mental health said in a recent report to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners.
“There still is a lack of services. There are more mental health needs than the current system can support,” said Debb Sheehan, director of the PACT 4 Families Children’s Mental Health Collaborative.
There’s also a shortage of mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists and psychologists, who are trained in children’s mental health and willing to live and work in rural Minnesota, Sheehan said.
“This was an issue brought up by our providers many times,” she said. “This has really been a struggle, to have enough staff to provide services.”
For families involved in the children’s mental health system, all of these are strengths and weaknesses they’ve experienced firsthand.
Paula Martinson grew up with abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder and is now a single parent of a child who has PTSD.
She remembers meeting briefly with a social worker when she was in grade school, then never saw the social worker again.
The system failed her, she said. But the services for her daughter have been an entirely different story, starting with reassurances up front that the county wasn’t trying to take her daughter away from her.
“She assured, ‘I’m trying to keep your child with you,’ ” Martinson said as she shared her personal story with the County Board.
Through comprehensive wrap-around services, she’s been able to connect with the resources she and her daughter need and has learned to see the staff as an ally, Martinson said.
“I thank God every day for them,” she said of the wrap-around services. “It was a great support system for us.”
But she seconded the report’s assessment of the current state of services. “There’s still always room for improvement,” she said.
The report, which included data specific to Kandiyohi County as well as regional survey findings, made several recommendations.
It urged supporting prevention and reducing stigma, which the report said “exists at nearly every level of the children’s mental health system.”
It recommended more training for personal care attendants, respite providers, foster care providers, parents, adopting parents and anyone involved with children’s lives in the areas of social and emotional development, prevention of mental health disorders and adverse childhood experiences.
It called for better transportation options enabling families to gain access to services and keep them connected when a child must be placed outside the county.
The report also recommended more foster care services within the county and support of wrap-around services that work with families as a team, as well as seamless services that help children transition from the teenage years to adulthood.
Professionals told the Kandiyohi County Board that there are several emerging trends they’re keeping an eye on.
There’s a growing need to identify and help adopted children with mental health issues, said Corinne Torkelson, supervisor with Kandiyohi County Family Services. “We’re really seeing an increase in the number of adopted kids who are on our mental health caseload,” she said.
Annual surveys of youths in the seventh, ninth and 11th grades also uncovered some worrisome findings.
For example, nearly 21 percent reported being sad and hopeless to the point of withdrawing from their usual activities. “This is one of our indications for depression,” Sheehan said.
About one in four reported feeling worried “most or all of the time,” an indication of anxiety.
According to the survey findings, 15.2 percent of the respondents had experienced living with someone who was depressed, mentally ill or had attempted suicide, and 13.1 percent had lived with someone who was alcoholic or a drug addict, pointing to a need for more support for these children, Sheehan said. “That’s something we do hear a lot from providers. Children need greater support when their parents have needs.”