STANWOOD — After graduating from over five years of behavioral health treatment, Max Larson is ready for high school and maybe a career as a marine biologist. He wants other young people to reach out and ask for help if they are struggling with mental health and stigma.
“I just want to tell you that there are people who will listen and people that will care,” he said. “And that there’s always going to be a shoulder that you can lean on.”
Now a composed 14 year old, he has overcome a lot since his family split up, leaving Larson and his mother, Amanda Timm, adrift and sometimes homeless. He had post-traumatic stress disorder and behavioral issues in school, and he was running away from home.
The family found Compass Health and much-needed support through the wrap-around intensive services program, called WISe, that includes individual and family therapy. Larson said the team supported them in numerous ways, including family communication, medication management, and help finding an apartment and specialized school for him.
In the program, each youth or family has up to five staff working with them, with several hours per week of support in the home and community. Timm now serves as a family support partner in the WISe program.
And Compass Health “was actually a very fun program,” Larson said. They did activities, like trips to the petting zoo and Jetty Island. “Just fun times all around. You’ll always have friends there,” he said.
Megan Boyle directs children’s intensive services at Compass Health, which covers Snohomish, Island, San Juan, Skagit and Whatcom counties. She said the referrals to the WISe program grow every year, with a “significant” increase to over 750 referrals in 2022. The WISe program is also seeing an increase in severity, as young people and families had less access to behavioral health services during the COVID pandemic.
Boyle advocates for anyone and everyone to get trained on “mental health first aid,” as a way to recognize early the signs of behavioral health challenges. This is particularly important for children and youth, as they typically suffer for 10 years before finding treatment, she said.
“That’s a long period of time during critical developmental years that youth could be navigating their life with symptoms, without getting the support that they might need,” Boyle said. “So anything we can do to reduce stigma and keep the conversation going so people feel comfortable accessing help and letting adults know when they need support, the better.”
Larson agreed. His advice to families: “Listen to your kids and try and communicate and understand what they’re saying. And that’s got to go both ways. But I know it can be especially hard for the adults, since they’ve been around for longer,” he said. “And just remember that you love each other.”
Larson spoke at Compass Health’s first in-person gala since 2019 on Saturday evening at the Tulalip Resort Casino. A crowd of about 400 gathered, raising $225,000 for children, youth and family services.
Snohomish County behavioral health information for children and youth: snohomishcountywa.gov
Compass Health: compasshealth.org
National Alliance on Mental Illness Snohomish County: namisnohomishcounty.org
988 suicide and crisis lifeline: 988lifeline.org
If you have faced barriers to accessing timely, convenient or affordable health care in Snohomish County, please fill out this brief form: forms.gle/Uso6CsDXFoQW48hR9
Joy Borkholder: 425-339-3430; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @jlbinvestigates.
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