If you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health crisis, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing “988” or texting “HOME” to 741741. Send to contact Crisis Text Line.
Sara de la Rosa found herself in declining health after her teenage daughter attempted suicide and was cycled through emergency rooms and mental health programs over the past three years.
A mother of four in Corpus Christi, Texas, she said she had suffered a minor stroke and stomach bleeding. To make matters worse, her daughter’s declining behavioral and mental health has forced Dela Rosa to miss hours from her home health assistant job and the loss of income she needed to support her family. Ta.
Dela Rosa said of the desperation she felt when she sought help for Amanda, 16, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I can’t get it,” he said. . In her anger, Amanda would lash out, smash light bulbs and cut herself with broken glass.
Ms. de la Rosa often became overwhelmed and noticed her youngest son’s behavior. “Her whole family needs help now,” she said.
The nationwide shortage of mental health care providers and the demand for affordable care further exacerbate the burden on parents, who are the primary caregivers in maintaining the health and well-being of their children. Psychologists, researchers and family advocates say their daily struggles are creating their own health crisis.
As parents address shortcomings in the mental health care system, stress can begin to take a toll on their physical and mental health, compromising their ability to continue to provide care, says the advocacy group Mental Illness National. Alliance deputy medical director Kristin Crawford said. Help families find care. Crawford said parents devote their energies to helping their children, but often at the expense of their own health.
“You’re living in constant tension when you’re worried about whether your child will survive the day,” she said. “Your fight or flight is always activated.”
And there are more parents at risk than you might think.
Recent reports Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Surgeon General’s Officeand healthcare provider Both show that a staggering number of children in the United States experience serious mental health problems. About 40% of U.S. parents with children under the age of 18 very or very worried Their children may suffer from anxiety and depression at some point, according to a study released in January by the Pew Research Center.
Researchers and child mental health experts argue that parents should be included in evidence-based treatments for addressing children’s mental health. However, focusing on adult caregivers and their anxieties and stresses is far too inadequate. For example, parent-child interaction therapy teaches parents to manage their young children’s behavior to prevent serious problems in the future. While this may be helpful for children, it does not directly support the health of parents.
“A lot of parents are sitting on the couch across from each other crying,” said Daniel Martinez, a behavioral health expert at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi. The hospital is in the process of creating a peer support group for families of children in institutional care, which is expected to launch by the fall.
“They felt very alone, they felt like bad parents, they almost gave up, and they felt guilty about wanting to give up,” Martinez said.
A parent’s deteriorating mental and physical health complicates their ability to prevent their child’s condition from deteriorating, says Mary Ann McCabe, board member of the American Psychological Association and associate clinical professor of pediatrics at George Washington University. says. She graduated from university medical school and is a psychologist with an independent clinical practice. Parents are the most important resource for their children and need to be taken care of, she said.
Dela Rosa said many residential treatment centers are refusing to admit her daughter due to lack of health care providers. Amanda, who is on Medicaid, said she was “spinning out of control”, including running away from home and missing for days, and her mother said she would be placed on a waiting list for weeks. .
In April, Amanda was admitted to an inpatient care facility in San Marcos, Texas, nearly 320 miles away. Dela Rosa said she had a “chance to take a breather” with Amanda gone, but that her respite would be temporary. She would like to see a therapist, but she has no time as she is too busy caring for Amanda and her youngest son. Before Amanda went to therapy, her 7-year-old brother started swearing, throwing and breaking things around the house, and wishing he weren’t alive, but her sister His behavior remained calm during his absence.
Other parents also said they felt the strain on their mental and physical health.
“Children are at stake. But so are families,” said Robin Gurwich, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University. “They struggle to find the best way to help children in a system without manuals.”
Brandon Masters, a middle school principal in San Antonio, said he developed a rash on his arms and the back of his neck last year that doctors said was stress related.
Despite being insured through his job, Masters last year cared for his teenage son, Braylon, who spent 60 days in residential treatment centers in Texas and California after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Estimated to have paid $22,000. Braylon spent an additional month in juvenile hall in late 2022 after biting his father and brandishing a knife. Braylon, now 17, has attempted suicide twice so far this year, and Masters has been unable to find a residential treatment center that can afford it and will accept him.
“There’s a huge wave of anxiety coming over me that makes it difficult to be around him,” Masters said.
Anne Grady’s 20-year-old son has autism, severe mood disorders, developmental delay and other medical conditions. He’s been on a waiting list to get full-time treatment in Texas for almost his 17 years.
Grady, who lives outside Austin, Texas, had a tumor in his salivary glands and suffered temporary facial paralysis, adding to the stress of caring for his son.
“It’s mentally exhausting for the family,” says Grady. Her lack of care “punishes the children and punishes the family,” she says.
Medicaid is a state federal program that pays medical and other health-related costs to low-income and disabled individuals. But while many of the state Medicaid programs pay for family therapy and parenting programs, they don’t treat parents as individual patients whose health is affected under their children’s plans, says Georgetown University Children. said Elizabeth Brak, senior researcher at the Family Center. . Parents living in any of the 10 states that have not expanded Medicaid, including Texas, face additional challenges in caring for their mental health.
Still, states are beginning to recognize that caregivers need more help. Many states allow Medicaid coverage for services by certified family piercing specialists or navigators who have experience raising children with mental illness or who have additional training in mentoring other families. in July, California Wins Prize Supporting parents as part of their child’s mental health efforts.
“The most important thing we can give families is hope that things will get better,” Gurwich said. Rather, the lack of quality mental health care services for young people exacerbates their disease risk. Without proper support, these conditions can persist for years on children and their parents, she said.
As Amanda returns home from an in-home treatment program this month, Dela Rosa worries she’s not equipped to handle her daughter’s bouts of depression.
“It’s the same thing over and over again, non-stop,” Dela Rosa says. “I have driven myself crazy.”
When Grady’s son turned 18, she became a continuing guardian so she could continue to care for him outside the home. “I love him more than anything in the world, but I can’t protect him,” she said.
Masters, whose skin has deteriorated, is trying to get Braylon through his senior year of high school, which begins this month. As Mr. Braylon’s negative behavior escalated, he is also renewing its search for residential treatment centers.
“When children are born, they have different dreams,” Masters said. Instead, medical professionals who have cared for Braylon told Masters that Braylon needs to be prepared to care for his son even after he graduates from high school. “What parent doesn’t want to hear that,” he said.
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