In 1949, the organization now known as Mental Health America designated May as Mental Health Month. For the past 70 years, May has been a time to spread awareness and provide education.
Many people assume that mental health is a concern for teenagers and adults. However, children are impacted by mental illness as well. Half of all mental illnesses occur before the age of 14. And sadly, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24. To get a better picture of the current state of children and mental health, I spoke with Dr. Todd Caillier at Caillier Clinic in Eau Claire.
Caillier says many children are referred to his practice by their school counselor. When it comes to recognizing mental health issues, “Schools are a great filter and first line defense,” he explains. Primary physicians also do a lot of referrals to Caillier Clinic. For children who are homeschooled or are otherwise not in the school system, their primary physician is a good first point of contact.
Caillier acknowledges that access to care is a barrier to treatment. Rural areas, in particular, face a shortage of mental health providers. The expansion of telehealth is increasing access to providers and opening up more treatment options. Among clinicians, there is some debate about practicing telehealth across state lines. However, when it comes to patients, “I believe telehealth is a great thing,” Caillier says.
Funding is another hurdle many families face. For example, health insurance may only cover five sessions of therapy when several more sessions are needed. The out-of-pocket costs can be a huge strain and deterrent for many families.
When adults struggle with their own mental illnesses, it makes addressing their children’s illness that much more difficult. This situation “compounds the burden of care when parents are suffering,” Caillier says. Families impacted by mental illness can find education and support through the Chippewa Valley chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. NAMI offers local classes and support groups, and provides referrals to other community resources.
Caillier has found that some patients are initially hesitant to seek treatment because they fear a lack of privacy. “Something that may not be well known in the general public is that confidentiality is paramount and rigorously protected in mental, behavioral, and emotional health centers and clinics,” he says. Caillier hopes that more people will understand their right to privacy and feel more confident about seeking care.
As a society, we’ve come a long way within the last 70 years with how we view mental illness, but there is still work to be done. A certain level of stigma is very much ingrained in our culture. Some mental illnesses have been reduced to punchlines. How often have we heard someone say, “That’s so bipolar” or “You’re acting schizophrenic”?
“Word matter. How we say them matters,” Caillier stresses. “Stigma compounds everything.”