With the DC Navy Yard and Capitol Hill Car Chase shootings and other events over the last few years, the overwhelming need for our society to acknowledge the very real consequences of failing to pay better attention to mental health issues is becoming impossible to ignore. We’re in a country where health insurance can be extremely expensive for those who are unemployed or who are ineligible for health benefits through their employers; a country whose societal ills tend to leave those affected by them to deal with these situations the best way they know how- which isn’t usually the healthiest way. To add insult to injury, the very piece of legislation (The Affordable Care Act) that was passed to help address these issues is being challenged by certain members in our Congress which has led to a Government Shutdown affecting the financial and emotional well-being of some of our Country’s most valuable members of the workforce.
For children and young adults in foster care, psychotropic medication is prescribed without a universal approach that addresses trauma first. Foster youth are prescribed psychotropic medication three times the rate of youth not in foster care and its negative affects are lasting. There are foster children that suffer from serious disorders and are in need of medication; however, there are a large number of foster children who are prescribed medication to correct a temporary emotional reaction due to trauma. The label and the medication stays with the young person through out foster care and follows them after aging out of the foster care system. They become young adults who are not used to having to take responsibility for their actions or emotions because they have always been excused because of their mental health diagnosis.
I’ve had young adults in care tell me that they couldn’t get up and go to a job interview because they didn’t have their medication and they knew they were going to have an attitude or “go off on someone”. When I shared this with one of my best friends who happened to be Bipolar, she said “that’s not Bipolar, that’s an I Have an Attitude, problem”.
In general, it seems taking psychotropic medication is the first resort instead of encouraging people to tackle the root causes of their depression and anxiety. There are so many people that are sincerely hurting and struggling with the complexities of their lives and are unsure of where to turn for support without being labeled or judged. It seems our message is “don’t burden others with your issues and don’t dig too deep to figure things out because no one cares. Instead pop a pill and try your best to fit in”. It seems those people who are not diagnosed with a serious mental health issue but are not functioning on a level that will allow them to function in a healthy way in their day-to-day lives are flying just under everyone’s radar and are the ones who need the most help. Unfortunately, if they have insurance they will only be able to see a therapist for a limited number of sessions before insurance will no longer cover or contribute to the bill.
Continuing the medical attention needed after foster care is an issue for many former foster youth, especially if they’re dealing with issues of unstable housing and unemployment. Its less likely that a former foster youth will continue with Doctor’s appointments on time if they are not sure where they will be living or if they did not get the assistance they needed in re-applying for Medicaid before aging out. Once diagnosed with a mental health issue, it is very difficult to overcome the stigma and label associated with it and what may have initially been a misdiagnosis due to situational trauma festers into an inability to function on a normal level.
My recommendations to alumni of foster care that are finding it difficult to navigate everyday life due to a mental health diagnosis they received while in foster care:
1. If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health issue (bipolar, ADHD, etc.), make sure you work with your Social Worker to map out a plan to continue to have your mental health needs met BEFORE you age out. If appropriate in your state, ensure that you have everything you need to re-apply for Medicaid on your own after leaving foster care. This is imperative, especially if you are taking medication.
2. GET RE-ASSESSED! What may have been your diagnosis at 11 may not be your diagnosis at 22 or even 32!
3. Utilize the Health Centers in your area at zero or reduced cost. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has a website; findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov where you can look up Health centers that provide:
~checkups when you're well
~treatment when you're sick
~complete care when you're pregnant
~immunizations and checkups for your children
~dental care and prescription drugs for your family
~mental health and substance abuse care if you need it
4. Understand that if your mental health is not taken care of, you will not be able to lead a healthy life!
5. Don’t be ashamed of talking to a health provider about any concerns you may have about your mental health! You are HUMAN and it is NORMAL to have ups and downs that will lead you to the door of a therapist. There are also biological imbalances that may occur that can lead to your needing to stabilize through medication or therapy.
6. SECOND OPINIONS ARE OKAY!! If you are not happy with an observation that one physician makes, make an appointment with a different physician for a second opinion! Get a third if you have to.
7. Be willing to take responsibility for your actions instead of using a diagnosis given to you at a very young age or at a very stressful time in your life. Cursing someone out because they made you upset is an indicator that you need to develop your communication skills NOT that you have Bipolar Disorder.
8. Learn more about Trauma and how it affects you. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a lot of information on Trauma and how it manifests in children and adults: www.nctsn.org. If you learn how to identify and manager your triggers, you can better control your emotions and behavior.
We have to give the development of the mind as much attention as we do the development of anything else – finances, our physical health, our career, our family. If our mind is not healthy, every other area of our lives will fail to develop.
“The mind is everything. What you think you become.”