The recent series on young adults and mental health in Georgia was an illuminating series that offered insight into a current problem as well as highlighting several community resources. What the series neglected to mention is how difficult it is to obtain services for those youth with chronic mental health conditions and the barriers the arise from the bureaucracy of insurance and a lack of psychiatric resources in Northeast Georgia. Sometimes it takes more than just one caring adult or a handful of therapy sessions to be on the path to true mental health wellness.
I have bipolar 2 disorder and I have a close family member battling a mental illness. Her story is not mine to tell, but suffice it to say that cruel metrics insurance companies use to determine the “clinical need” for hospitalization is frightening. How many attempts? Were they “serious” attempts? How many days do we allow for treatment? What does “success” look like?
In addition, there are arbitrary age groupings that do not keep up with science tells us about human development — e.g. the age of adulthood is 18, but according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the mid- to late 20s. An 18-year-old child is bumped to adult mental health services that are radically different from juvenile treatment centers, and that line in the sand can make for an unsettling experience.
There is also a lack of resources for those with chronic mental illnesses. There are currently no intensive outpatient programs for teens in our area, which is a much-needed bridge between outpatient, weekly talk therapy and inpatient hospitalization. It can take months to get an appointment with a psychiatrist, and in fact, going to the ER and being admitted to inpatient hospitalization is the quickest way to access a psychiatrist. If you have Medicaid or Peachcare, obtaining a therapist in Gainesville is almost impossible. There are limited therapists who are overworked and underpaid, and have long wait lists.
The local programs and initiatives are wonderful for getting baseline access to mental health care for our youth. However, until we address the systemic barriers to treatment for those with chronic mental health conditions, we are denying access for our most vulnerable youth.