Help available for youth, families

By Carolyn Hetherwick Goza, M.Ed <I></I>

In response to the Sunday editorial, “Fathoming the Fathomless”: To The Herald’s opinion page editor, Peter Jackson, who wrote this piece, I thank you for your forthright statements regarding the mental health issues of Snohomish County. As President of the Snohomish County Mental Health Advisory Board, albeit these are my personal comments, I congratulate you for being totally aware of the issues we face with limited funds for providing services to those who need them most.

I also totally concur with Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Roe that we — society, media — not focus on one sick individual but rather how we can help our many vulnerable citizens who suffer from mental illness with what many appears to some so little care available, too often too late. (Sunday guest commentary, “What is the price of fame?”)

Soon after I moved to the Seattle area in 2004, my CPA said that in the PNW the good citizens want the best education and health care — both physical and mental care — but do not want to pay for anything! Pay, that is, in dollars. Instead we pay with dysfunctional families consumed with caring for a mentally ill member and not knowing where or how to obtain help — especially if it is a youth terrorizing their family.

You see, my focus is working with parents/caregivers of mentally ill children/youth/adolescents. Their home lives are consumed by one youth around whom the whole family feels they have to live. Why, and who has given him or her that right to control everyone else?? You can’t know what no one has taught you and the No. 1 teaching is that mental illnesses are brain disorders — usually not from “bad” parenting!

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a free six-week program called BASICS that we offer twice a year for parents/major caregivers, where we teach that their youth’s/adolescent’s extreme behaviors are diseases just like diabetes, a broken leg, or visual impairment! Do you ignore these physical diseases or just go to your general practitioner? No! You go to a specialist. And yes, there is just a frightening lack of health care — much less mental health care in Snohomish County, but it is available even for those without health insurance.

We have a functioning 2-1-1 system full of referrals or check our local NAMI’s website (namisnohomishcounty.org) for our contact information. We also offer a monthly free Parent Support Group where parents can come to “vent” their frustrations, or to hear about county resources from other parents walking a similar path — as you are not alone!

Our criminal justice system is where the youth not given appropriate care land as the ultimate outcome. Seventy percent of our youth in the justice system have a diagnosable mental illness! What is needed is a PROactive approach, as stated in the editorial, which can have such a better outcome and ultimately at a much lower cost to taxpayers. The Mental Health Court mentioned in the editorial are for misdemeanor charges and adults only. We are pleased to announce has finally been ironed out and is scheduled to begin operation in September.

Some facts from the Surgeon General in 1999 — so push the numbers upward as you think of how our mentally ill population has increased:

• Ten percent (12-15 percent now) of children/adolescents in the U.S. suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that cause significant functional impairment in their day-to-day lives at home, school and with peers (and the lives of their parents).

Each year only 20 percent of our youth/adolescents with these disorders are identified and receive mental health services. Fifty percent of all lifetime cases of mental disorders begin by age 14. And early treatment by competent mental health professionals has proven to be effective! ADHD is a mental illness that left untreated creates a dropout rate that is 14 times greater than other teens and by age 14 many ADHD diagnoses turn into bipolar disorder.

Treatment works! Medications prescribed by a mental health professional and that are monitored by parents to make sure they are taken, along with counseling, can change/save the youth’s/adolescent’s life. And yes, we do have resources in Snohomish County. Call Volunteers of America at 425-259-3191 or for first appointment available, sometime even next day, call the ACCESS line at 1-888-693-7200.

If you try one therapist/agency and you just cannot make it work — change! Don’t just say therapy does not work! These issues take time and are hard work to process. And yes, all this takes time and commitment from the caregiver, but is very worthwhile if you can save your child’s life — and perhaps the lives of others. Yes, yes as the editorial says, we can and must enhance community support for mental health services.

Please join us as we work regarding mental health services on our Board and in our community. And parents, please, help us help you with your youth by taking our free BASICS class beginning Sept. 27, 2012 for six weeks and those with adult mentally ill we have a 12-week class called Family to Family that will be beginning about the same time — both offered through NAMI. For BASICS information and required registration please e-mail me at namicontact@gmail.com.

The “ideal” society in these economic times just does not exist. But we can be educated and help our youth. You can take the steps to care enough to get be appropriate care, even though it means you have to make some sacrifices yourself. But isn’t that what parenting is all about? No one promised that “life is fair.” or “life is easy.” Life is what we make it and the life of our youth/adolescents is what we help them to have. Please “Care enough to send the best message” to them and then in turn to society. Please. Enough damage has been done. I know. I’ve been through it and lost my loved ones!

Carolyn Hetherwick Goza, M.Ed., is the President of the Snohomish County Mental Health Advisory Board and a NAMI BASICS Lead Instructor.