According to MentalHealth.gov, one in 25 Americans suffer from a serious mental illness. For half of all mental health disorders, symptoms begin before a minor becomes 14 years old. While only 3% to 5% of people with mental health disorders become violent, when these symptoms present themselves in children, it can cost parents up to $100,000 per year to treat. Here’s what to do if you can’t afford mental health treatment for your child, according to the experts.
Get a Medicaid Waiver
Virginia Boga, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York, acknowledges that the mental health system needs improvement. However, some states have made special provisions.
“It depends on the state you’re in, but in NYC for certain mental health diagnoses, you can get a Medicaid waiver,” she tells Parentology. “It is a complicated process, but it helps parents with many of the expenses that come with [raising] a child with a mental health illness.”
She adds, “The [first] step in getting this program is contacting a psychologist to do an evaluation. … A Medicaid waiver can help a parent get the funding to help their child. It provides access to many possible treatments.”
NPR shares the story of an affectionate toddler who grew into a violent pre-teen. After his 11th hospitalization in two years, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services gave the parents a difficult choice. If they took their son home, they would face charges for endangering their other children. If they left their son at the hospital, the state would take care of him, but they would need to accept a charge of neglect.
Dr. Sherrie Campbell, an author and nationally recognized clinical psychologist, points out that the problem is even more difficult if the child receives a diagnosis not related to a brain chemistry disorder.
“There is no known medical or pharmaceutical treatment proven to treat psychopathology because psychopathology is more about character than the brain,” Campbell says. “This is a place where the mental health system is failing.”
File a Suit Against the State
The little boy’s story shared above is tragic, but thanks to his parent’s determination, it was not the end of the road. His mother researched federal Medicaid law and learned that state-federal health insurance programs should have covered her son because he was eligible. NPR notes that his adoption status determined eligibility.
Not only did his family sue the state and win, but they were able to regain custody of their son. He is now 24 years old and has been stable throughout his adult years. Their lawyer also filed a class-action suit against Illinois on behalf of all children denied treatment by the state. This forced Illinois to begin the process of overhauling its mental health care system.
The reports show that private health insurance companies are also to blame. In virtually all the cases studied where the families had health insurance, insurance companies denied their claims or eventually stopped paying. According to US Congressman Gus Bilirakis in an interview by ABC Action News, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act requires insurance companies to cover the cost of mental health treatment. However, insurance companies face no penalties for failing to comply. As a result, parents may continue to resort to desperate means.
What To Do If You Can’t Afford Mental Health Treatment for Your Child Sources
MentalHealth.gov: Mental Health Myths and Facts
Virginia Boga, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist
NPR: To Get Mental Health Help For a Child, Desperate Parents Relinquish Custody
Dr. Sherrie Campbell, But It’s Your Family
ABC Action News: U.S Congressman Demands Action After I-Team Finds Parents Give Up Custody for Mental Health Services