By Brittany Miles
I am the single parent of a teen with early onset schizophrenia, and we’ve been consistently failed by the system.
At 15, Jaime has intense hallucinations, agonizing delusions, and debilitating paranoia. Getting her consistent, quality care has been a challenge. The $1.25 billion, nine-year King County Crisis Care Centers levy, which would fund the creation of five urgent care clinics around King County, including one exclusively for kids and youth, is on the April special election ballot. It would be a major step forward in helping our most vulnerable kids get the care they need.
The stakes are high: Nationwide, one in six young people between 6 and 17 experience a mental health disorder each year; half of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75 percent starts by age 24. The mental health system is difficult to navigate as an adult, but for kids it’s inscrutable. I used the resources available to parents: I collaborated with the school district for special education services, met with social workers, and conferred with specialists—all of whom underestimated Jaime’s needs.
Our family has lived with pain, confusion, and anger with the system. If we had access to urgent care, I believe we would have been better equipped to survive my daughter’s worst days.
She started spiraling at 12 and my maternal instinct told me she needed more help than I could give her. Everyday activities could make her irritable to the point of irrationality. I often found Jaime crying in our hall closet. During one particularly frightening episode, she was admitted to Children’s Hospital. After a five-day stay (with a $50,000 price tag) I was told she was depressed and encouraged to send her back to school within a few days. When she returned home, the crisis continued. I didn’t know where else we could get help.
Our family has lived with pain, confusion, and anger with the system. Jaime’s needs were outgrowing the diagnosis and medications we’d been given. I left my lucrative tech consulting career to become her full-time caretaker. If we had access to urgent care, I believe we would have been better equipped to survive her worst days. Community-based care is vital, because it provides a continuum of care, while hospital stays triage and treat acute symptoms. Intimate knowledge of the client’s physical, behavioral, and emotional health helps providers ameliorate a crisis. Caretakers, who no longer have to share a comprehensive health history at every visit, can feel heard.
While community care shows great promise, I am concerned that the system could quickly become overloaded. Cities should take steps to prepare for the potential onslaught. Neighborhood services can feed into the expansion of the crisis care network. Last week, the north and northeast King County cities of Bothell, Kenmore, Kirkland, Lake Forest Park, and Shoreline announced a new multiservice crisis response center dedicated to serving the needs of their citizens. This center will be the first in the county to address the demand, and offers a blueprint that other cities can follow. One area which requires more discussion is how the county will manage the quality of care, so there is consistency for clients and staff.
After all we’ve been through, Jaime is currently stable with the right medication and has a therapist she adores. Life is better, but her symptoms can make the best of days difficult, and a crisis can erupt at any time. Passing the Crisis Care Center levy will ensure that a vital safety net will be in place for those struggling to manage their mental health in a post-Covid world.
Brittany Miles is the single parent of a 15-year-old with early onset schizophrenia and a member of the Kirkland Regional Crisis Response Community Advisory Board. “Jaime” is a pseudonym.