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Delay in Delivery of Mental Health Services 'Embarassing,' Expert Says

A gap in addressing adolescent needs is becoming a growing concern, several panelists said at a forum Tuesday.

Opening the doors of access for those seeking mental health care is the single greatest challenge facing the industry today, a panel of experts said Tuesday.

Representatives of Anne Arundel County government, schools, police and area hospitals met Tuesday at Anne Arundel Community College to discuss ongoing problems facing the mental health industry. The group meets annually at the community college to revisit the discussion.

Many panelists said there is a growing population who are unable to readily access the services they need, because the existing workforce is unable to meet that demand.

“It’s extremely difficult to get people immediate access, and I mean within 24 to 48 hours, to a trained mental health professional who can diagnose,” said Frank Sullivan, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency.

Sullivan called the average six-week wait to get patients that kind of access in Maryland “embarrassing.” However, it’s the reality for an industry that’s stretched thin over a growing population of people in need of services.

As bad as that wait is in Maryland, Sullivan said it’s comparable to other states in the country.

“And I’m not bragging—that’s a horror, given what’s going on in other states,” he said.

Dr. Gayle Cicero, director of student services in Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said the sheer size of the county, and the number of agencies involved, works against getting consistent, quality care to students who need help.

“Coordinating is a huge challenge because of the size of our population and the scope of the problem,” she said.

A number of panelists said children, and adolescents in particular, are becoming lost in the mix. Addressing their needs before they reach adulthood could prevent future tragedies, Cicero said, referencing the recent shooting at a school in Newtown, CT that left 26 people dead.

“If we could deal with the problem at ages 4, 5 or 6, we might not be dealing with Newtown shootings,” Cicero said.

Lt. Doyle Batten of the Anne Arundel County Police Department said parents should monitor their children more closely—particularly in terms of how they spend their free time online.

“They’re bringing people into their living room over a headset that they have no idea who their kids are interacting with,” Batten said. “We’re putting our children in front of military-style, assault-weapon armed simulators in our living room and letting them talk and communicate with people all over the world, unfiltered, unfettered, unmonitored.

“As parents, it’s unconscionable,” he said.

Batten is referring to popular video games such as Call of Duty, a first-person shooter where players interact with others online through headsets. Violent threats and accusations made through these channels, and through social media, are often overlooked, but still leave an impression on our children, Batten said.

Batten’s associate, Capt. Ross Passman, said authorities rely on vigilant members of the public to lock down their weapons and ensure they don’t get in the hands of the wrong people, including children and those who may suffer from mental illnesses.

“Right now we need the public to continue to be our eyes and ears and let the police department know when these incidences are occurring,” he said.

Janet Norman February 13, 2013 at 04:52 PM
There's a cost-effective, wide-reaching, readily-implementable, proven by extensive research solution that our County can turn to in order to improve mental health among our adolescent population. For the 22,097 high school students in the AACPS schools, their levels of depression, suicidal thoughts, risky behavior would all decrease with more sleep and later high school start times. The current 5:45 am wakeups and 7:17 am high school starts are highly destructive to the mental health, safety, physical health, academic performance, and closing of achievement gaps for our teens. This solution is entirely within the school system's control, as over 3,625 parents, students and AA Community members have begged in petition to Dr. Maxwell and the School Board. A panel bemoaning the situation should look for answers within their grasp, and act upon them now, before we forever lose more of our teen students to tragic outcomes.
Shannon February 13, 2013 at 11:00 PM
I whole-heartedly agree. It would also make life easier, if grades weren't based on Mid-Term and Final Exams. The kids should be graded based on their performance during each marking period, and should not be set up to fail because of exams that they are forced to take at the end of each semester that creates such and immense amount of pressure on these kids. We need to bring back education that will help us to groom the productive and succesful 35 year old. They need to learn life skills. Half of the kids in Anne Arundel County have reading fluency issues, don't know how to fill out an application, build a resume, balance a checkbook, interview, give correct change, tally percentages, and the list goes on and on. I also think that the level of depression would decrease if the School System would follow through with the whole "no tolerance of violence" rules, and would take the kids that want to fight and start trouble by acting like they are some big and bad person and get them out of the school, so that the kids they are harassing are able to learn. We also need to drug test these kids, especially athletes, and hold these kids to a higher standard. I know that a lot of the athletes at my kid's school are drinking and doing drugs regularly. I also have been told that kids are dealing drugs in the cafeteria and hallways where people can see. If this is what our kids deal with every time they walk into school, no wonder they are depressed.
W. L. February 14, 2013 at 01:08 PM
Janet and Shannon, why don't you send what you have written here to Dr. Cicero. Writing it here will do no good. You both have very good points that should be discussed at their next meeting.
Janet Norman February 15, 2013 at 02:43 AM
Yes, I would like to know Dr. Cicero's thoughts and proposed solutions. We did have one of the leading pediatric sleep researchers in the country, Dr. Judith Owens of Childrens National Medical Center in DC, come address Dr. Maxwell and the AACPS School Board to tell them the decades of research findings on these mental health issues and sleep deprivation from early high school start times. We hope this research will move the AACPS system to address this issue in a timely manner. Please add your voice to that of your AA County neighbors in the petition to Dr. Maxwell and the School Board, found at www.aacstarttime.com

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