Caring for Mentally Ill Children Should Not Put Parents in the Poorhouse

August 2, 2010 Angela McClanahan

Recently, someone directed me to this article on parents who give up custody to get help for their mentally ill children. It hits hard now, as I live in a state that is about to vote on its own renunciation of the so-called "Obamacare" plan.

We celebrate people living with deadly diseases and chronic conditions, and great strides are being made toward prolonging and improving their lives. But we still vilify people who live with psychiatric illnesses? Am I the only person who thinks this is a problem?


Health Issues vs. Children with Mental Illness

One Saturday in April, 2008, I left a children's psychiatric ward, having just visited my son and spoken with his treating psychiatrist. I was nine months pregnant with my second child, but the doctor's words weighed upon me much more than the 20-plus pounds of baby I carried.

"I'm just at a loss doesn't seem like anything's really working. You're probably looking at long-term residential care. I don't know what kind of insurance you have, but this is going to get expensive, and with a baby on the way, you might want to start considering your options."

I left that hospital and drove to another, where my 2-week-old niece--born, coincidentally, the day I'd admitted Bob--awaited surgery. My niece was born with an intestinal defect and severe congenital heart defects. She was scheduled for surgical repair of the intestinal issue, and open heart surgery was planned before her 6-month birthday.

No one ever said to my brother and his wife, "this is going to get expensive, and we're not even sure it will work; you might just want to give up now." They wouldn't have dared.

Why Are Our Mentally Ill Children Still Treated Differently?

If my niece's treatment had proven too costly for them to afford, there would have been options. The community would have rallied. News stories would have aired. Bake sales and car washes would have been held. Doctors and hospitals would have come forward, graciously offering their services free of charge.

Had my insurance pulled the plug on Bob's psychiatric treatment--a 6-year-old kindergartener with psychiatric diagnoses--would the same outpouring of support been offered to him?

I highly doubt it. We fear what we don't understand; what we fear, we avoid at all costs. We don't understand psychiatric illness. We are afraid of people who have it, and we'd prefer to lock them away. The gross misconception is people with "real" ailments can't help it. If your kid is mentally ill, it's because of something you did wrong.

billTwo days after my conversation with that doctor, Bob's condition improved (more, I think, a result of his typical cycling than any of the medications he was on) and he was released. It was another year before we discovered the "magic cocktail" of medications that have rendered him stable. Without insurance, that cocktail would cost over $1,500.00 a month. Without insurance, I'm not sure what we would do.

How long before our society stops allowing only the privileged to be healthy? Before psychiatric illness is recognized as a "real" sickness?

I have no idea. I just hope it happens in our lifetime.

APA Reference
McClanahan, A. (2010, August 2). Caring for Mentally Ill Children Should Not Put Parents in the Poorhouse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Angela McClanahan

January, 14 2014 at 7:59 pm

I hate people like Jeannie. I was made a ward of the court at 16 because I had schizophrenia. So I am now on SSI and section 8 and people like her like to demonize me saying we think we are entitled and if I can type on the internet I can work or some other trashtalking. Well, I don't think I am entitled but I do think I am not well and wouldn't survive without the help I receive. I don't have kids but still people like her know no limits in attacking and judging people.

January, 10 2011 at 1:18 pm

I think this is horrible. There are people who are having 3,4,5,6 or more babies with no dads. They are getting a free apartment, free medical, free food and conforming to a lifestyle that many of their parents had since 1985 when Mayor Lindsay gave New Yorkers welfare. Alot of them starve these children, shake them and beat them, but we reward them so they have more and more. There are hospitals that are shutting down, why not put these women in them so there children will be taken care of by doctors and feed food. They don't need apartments just room and board. Our children need more help than these people and everyone knows who I am talking about. Welfare is to help people who need it not the youth of today who make it a lifestyle.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Angela McClanahan
January, 10 2011 at 2:02 pm

Jeannie, unfortunately, most of these parents you speak of suffer some form of mental illness, themselves (who in their "right" mind, after all, beats or starves their own children?). It's not just mentally ill children who would benefit from accessible psychiatric treatment--there are as many adults in this country who desperately need affordable and effective treatment. Too many children and adults are left with ineffective treatment because they are stuck with what their insurance will cover. Yet people filing bankruptcy are being allowed to maintain ridiculous material possessions because it's their accustomed "lifestyle." Capitalism creates a lot of problems; the welfare situation is only one of them.

August, 15 2010 at 3:19 am

We had insurance that would only pay short term. My son was in the hospital 11 times in 1 year. I finally had to leave my job to care for my son. We lost our house, a brand new car and everything else we had worked a lifetime for. We need a better system. What people don't realize is that these are life threatening at times. Until Mental Illness affects a high ranking politician or a movie star our hope is dim.

August, 6 2010 at 3:54 pm

I am parent to 3 now adult children that had severe OCD, GAD, and Depression. One required residential treatment,$75,000. Make long story short, we lost our house, filed bankruptcy and lost nearly everything. Our former religion thought we just didn't have faith, they don't believe in mental health problems and don;t report child molestation unless state mandates they have to. Two of my kids still at home working to establish careers, going to school. My scripts for our family are over $1000 per month. We need a better system for families. I always made too much money to get help with meds and copayments

August, 2 2010 at 10:20 am

When I was 16 I was admitted to a psych hospital (the diagnosis at the time was major depression recurrent (I'm now diagnosed bipolar)) after a couple of months, me not getting better and my parents insurance running out, I was transferred to a state ran facillity (this was in 87) That hospital is thankfully now closed, but I spent a year in it, and to keep the story short, it was a form of hell after a year in there my parents got new insurance and I was transferred to a good hospital. So I can feel what you're talking about.

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