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The Story of Two Mothers

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Becky Vaughn

Vice President, Addictions, National Council for Behavioral Health

The Story of Two Mothers

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This post is adapted from comments shared at the Atlantic Summit on Mental Health and Addiction held on April 12 in Washington, DC. View a full summary of the event, including video of the event, here.

I want to tell you the story of two mothers.

Susan has a 13 year old son.  She started noticing that her son seemed extra thirsty, had unusually itchy skin and dry mouth.  She found helpful information on the web based on his symptoms, posted her concerns on Facebook and some of her friends offered her ideas from their own experiences, and suspected the possibility of diabetes.  She took him to their primary care doctor, who immediately knew the proper procedures for testing and treatment.  Her insurance covered the diagnosis, treatment, education, and needed support.  She was devastated that her son would have to learn to manage this chronic disease, but her friends rallied around her, offered her empathy and stories of their own. She even found an online support group for other mothers in her situation.

Pam has a 15 year old daughter. Pam notices her daughter has become less interested in school work and her appearance, rarely brings friends home anymore, and they seem to be fighting a lot more.  But Pam chalks it up to her daughter being a typical teenager with raging hormones.  As things get progressively worse, Pam begins to wonder if her daughter might be using drugs.  But she can’t talk to her friends about it—after all, kids who use drugs have bad parents or come from dysfunctional families.  Googling the topic only confuses and worries her more. She takes her daughter to the pediatrician, but she’s not trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug abuse and even when Pam tells her she suspects she might be using drugs, the doctor has few resources to offer.  By now, her daughter is in crisis and has moved from abuse to addiction. Her insurance is confusing and unclear about what, if anything, is covered and which providers she can go to. She doesn’t know what she is facing, how to get treatment, where to turn for support, and who will pay for it all.

I want to live in a nation where these mothers are treated equally. Where both have the information and resources needed to take care of their children.  Where both can get timely, high quality care to help their kids grow up healthy.

How do we get there? As evident in all of the speakers at the Atlantic Summit on Mental Health and Addiction, it will take a diverse array of groups paying attention to – and taking action on – the addiction crisis to bring the experiences of these moms closer together. We urge everyone who wants to live in a nation where these two moms are treated equally to commit to three core actions.

  1. Advocate at the federal, state, and local levels to ensure that prevention policies and programs are widespread, mental illnesses and addictions are treated with evidence-based practices, treatment is covered with parity and safety nets are made of fine mesh to catch people and services not covered by insurance.
  2. Look at the behavioral health portion of your health insurance. Does it provide the full continuum of care for mental and substance use disorders?  Does it have an adequate number of providers in the network to provide services for all populations and with evidence-based modalities? Are the benefits as robust as those for other medical procedures?  If not, push your insurance company and your insurance commissioner if need be.  We have parity laws that need to be enforced.  Mothers like Pam deserve to not only be able to find services, but to know they are accessible and of high quality.
  3. Take the lead in educating the broader community about addiction and mental illness, through programs like Mental Health First Aid that can help people understand these diseases, what anyone can do to support someone in need, and ultimately save lives. Something that should be as common as CPR. More than 600,000 people across the nation are trained in Mental Health First Aid. Have you and your colleagues been trained?  Why not?

You are already my hero.  You showed interest and took the time to read this.  Thank you in advance for the action you will take as a result.