For several months last spring and summer, my teen daughter, Caroline, experienced near-daily bouts of depression and debilitating panic attacks. During those episodes, she became extremely agitated; sobbing uncontrollably and aggressively rebuffing my attempts to comfort or reason with her. My daughter was in a dark place, and I was worried. But I have excellent health insurance; I thought that would help me find a good therapist.
I dutifully dialed everyone on my health plan’s list. Some of them even back only to say they are not taking new patients, or couldn’t see Caroline for three months, or didn’t have the training to match her symptoms. I ultimately found a great therapist who isn’t in my health plan’s network and after many months of weekly sessions, Caroline is doing much better.
Financial and personal situations
I’m luckier than most parents because my health plan covers a significant portion of Caroline’s out-of-network therapy. I pay only $45 per session, while some parents shell out north of $200 every week. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution because people’s financial and personal situations vary widely. So let begin with tips for all parents, even those with skimpy insurance or none at all. A good place to start is the pediatrician’s office whether it’s a private practice or a low-cost community clinic.
“When your children reach adolescence, you should be asking their pediatricians to screen for both anxiety and depression,” advises Dr. Bhavana Arora, chief medical officer of the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Health Network. A number of pediatricians in her program are becoming increasingly comfortable treating; mild to moderate mental health problems in their offices, Arora says.
The mental health
Caroline’s high school has a mental health counselor whom she visits when she is anxious or feeling blue. She always feels better afterward. If your kid’s school does not have a mental health counselor, nurses and regular school counselors will likely know of outside options. Talk to them. Faith-based organizations are increasingly engaged in mental health care. Saddleback Church, with numerous locations around Southern California, offers support groups and counseling.
If you, like me, have insurance and find a good therapist who is not in your network, try to make it work if you can possibly afford it. Start by checking whether you have coverage for out-of-network providers. If not, or if it’s not enough, ask if your health plan is willing to treat the therapist as an in-network provider just for your child an arrangement known as a single-case agreement. The therapist likely will have to agree to a lower payment.
If you need help and peer support, check with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It offers a six-week course, “NAMI Basics,” which educates parents and puts them in touch with others in the same boat. After her son refused therapy for months, Thereault and her husband, Brian, followed the advice of one of the therapists They told their son if he did not agree to counsel, they would evict him from the house. Members of the support group, some of whom had made similar decisions, offered them a sympathetic ear.