Your Voice: Mass. Residents Debate Mental Health Issues

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The WBUR series, "Are The Kids All Right?," which ran on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, sparked a lot of conversation on the Web.

WBUR's Managing Editor Dave Shaw joined Morning Edition Monday to talk about what people have been saying about the series.

Deborah Becker: What are people saying?

Dave Shaw: A theme that emerged in the comments throughout the week is the idea that mental health problems can't only be treated with medication. Commenters had plenty of suggestions — exercise, meditation, comprehensive therapy. "Children don't exist in a vacuum," wrote a commenter who used the handle "My Word," citing school environments and families as big parts of children's well being.

Crystal Smith of Natick also commented, saying it's "very scary that not only do we want to brush mental illness under the rug, the way we sweep is with psychotropic drugs."

"Drugs come first, and then maybe we deal with it using therapy, or acupuncture, or any of the other things that are out there," Smith said.

And Dave, we heard from many people who shared the experiences of the families and providers that we spoke with during our series. And what they all seem to agree with is that children's mental health care is extremely complicated, and its treatment can be very complex.

One thing that helps is the Rosie D. lawsuit, which requires the state to provide appropriate services to children on public health insurance, but those services tend to be comprehensive, in-home programs, which of course are very expensive.

Rosie D. of course referring to the plaintiff in that lawsuit from five years ago.

Michael Jellinek is chief of child psychiatry at Mass. General Hospital, and president of Newton Wellesley Hospital. He commented online, and told us later on the phone that the trouble in getting that kind of care is that it's not reimbursed by insurance companies that same way medication is.

"So unfortunately, what happens is medication use gets rewarded by reimbursement, and almost everything else doesn't," Jellinek said.

That of course then led to questions and a conversation about insurance coverage for kids on public versus private insurance.

Yeah, there was a little back and forth over the benefits of Mass. Health, public insurance for people in Massachusetts. When it comes to mental health, Mass. Health offers far more comprehensive coverage than many private insurers. That prompted an anonymous commenter to say, "all you hard working middle-class people pay so that the low-class people can have better insurance than you."

In all fairness, Dave, we should say that not all the comments were positive, and in some cases people questioned whether we are over-diagnosing mental health issues in kids as a way to excuse bad behavior.

A commenter named "No way" said what some call mental health issues really stem from bad parenting. "Stop being your kids' friend and start putting your food down!" he (or she) wrote.

More broadly, commenter E.J. Hayden said it's up to parents, professionals, and society at large to solve the problem. "Let's get our heads out of the sand," Hayden wrote.


This program aired on February 7, 2011.


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