Health Column: Treating mental illness will take more money

Area youth group organizers discussed access to mental health services during a forum last month. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)
Area youth group organizers discussed access to mental health services during a forum last month. (Credit: Carrie Miller, file)

Recent studies have shown that more young adults are seeking hospital treatment for mental health issues than ever before. That’s due in part due to the availability of better insurance coverage with healthcare reform, according to researchers at Indiana and Purdue universities.

Locally, mental health providers say there simply aren’t enough services available to help youth in need. 

Last month, about 100 children and young adults aged 7 and up received mental health services at the offices of the nonprofit Family Service League’s North Fork Counseling in Mattituck. That service is the primary provider of mental health services on the North Fork, and its program director, Karen Malcomson, said new families are seeking help all the time.

“Since January we have admitted 28 children and adolescents into our program,” she said. “We provide a lot of services, but the demand is much greater. The problem is bigger than the services we have out here.”

Ms. Malcomson said anxiety disorders and social phobias are keeping children from enjoying school and that more youth are experiencing issues with psychosis and suicidal thoughts.

“We’re seeing many more children with serious depressions than we have ever seen before,” she said.

They are also seeing trends like children harming themselves by cutting and issues with bullying and video game addiction — with some children gaming up to 10 hours a day.

“Fifty percent of the teens who walk in the door — they’re cutting, their friends are cutting, and they are even talking about it on Facebook,” she said. “These are local children within our community.”

“The earlier the child can get help, the shorter the treatment and it doesn’t lead them to a chronic condition down the line,” she added.
Greater access to services comes down to access to funding, Ms. Malcomson explained.

Representatives from youth bureaus in Southold, Southampton and Riverhead towns are working with other area organizations to highlight the challenges facing young people on the East End. Access to mental health services is among the biggest hurdles and those involved in the effort are seeking additional funding to help.

Ms. Malcomson said any money could go a long way.

On any given day, she said, the Family Service League receives referrals from local schools, family medicine practitioners and county agencies such as the probation department and Child Protective Services.

But about 40 percent of the league’s patients come directly from hospitals or psychiatric emergency rooms and are in need of follow-up care.

“We would much rather be helping those patients before they get to that point,” Ms. Malcomson said.

Ms. Malcomson, who has been involved with the Mattituck organization for more than 25 years, said among the mix, there are always children who fall between the cracks. Patients can be burdened by a lack of transportation to and from the office, she explained, while others are not able to afford care, as private practice co-pays can run up to $50 a visit.

“Oftentimes we want to work with the family too,” said Dr. Christian Racine, the Family Service League’s senior director of clinical services. “It’s a challenge that comes with caring for children.”

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