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As coordinator of the Campaign for Children's Mental Health at
Voices for Virginia's Children, I regularly talk to parents who are
struggling to help their children with mental health issues. They
are often extremely frustrated because they cannot find the
treatment that their child needs in their community, or there is a
long wait list for services, or their insurance won't pay for the
type of treatment their child needs.
Compounding these frustrations, many parents with whom I talk feel isolated. They don't know other families struggling with children's mental health disorders. They may not be receiving support from friends or their child's school. Their families' lives have been thrown into disarray - emotionally, logistically, and financially - as they try to find help for the child who needs it while continuing to work and take care of other children.
One question I often hear is, "Why it is so difficult to get help when your child has a mental health problem as opposed to a physical health problem?" The answer is complex, and the Campaign for Children's Mental Health is working to improve access to services through a variety of strategies.
The key to improving access to children's mental health services - through every strategy we are using - is mobilizing the families who have experience with this issue. And there are more of you than you might think. Did you know that 1 in 5 children experience a mental health disorder? Chances are you DO know other families who have a child with ADHD, depression, anxiety, or another mental health challenge, but because of the stigma that still exists you and they have never made the connection.
Part of what we do at the Campaign is help families realize the difference they can make by speaking out, and we equip them to do so. For example:
• Telling your stories can reduce the stigma of mental illness; together, we can help reduce the isolation so many families and children feel, and make it okay to ask for help.
• Walking advocates through the barriers your family has encountered as you've tried to seek help enables us to identify the policies that need to be changed or the types of services that need to be created.
• Sharing your experience with legislators can help them realize the real-life implications of the funding decisions they make.
One parent we've worked with at the Campaign is Shannon Haworth. After talking to lawmakers in Washington, DC, she was asked in a radio interview last summer what it feels like to advocate. She replied, "You feel like you're just a parent in a sea of other parents who need help, and so when you're able to talk to people and tell your specific story and have people listen, it empowers you."
I look forward to speaking at the Behavioral Health Symposium on April 18 to explore together ways we can empower more families to improve our children's mental health.
Margaret Nimmo Crowe is Policy Director at Voices for Virginia's Children (www.vakids.org), a statewide, privately funded, non-partisan policy research and advocacy organization that champions policies and practices that improve the lives of children. She coordinates the Campaign for Children's Mental Health (www.1in5kids.org), a broad-based advocacy initiative led by Voices and supported by 60 organizations to increase access to children's mental health services the Commonwealth. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.