The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

February 13, 2013

Children's mental health boosted by Sheran bills

MANKATO — Sen. Kathy Sheran introduced a pair of bills Wednesday that she believes will lead to more early intervention to treat mental illness in children.

"If we intervene early, provide supports for the family and decrease stress and anxiety around the illness, we have better outcomes," the Mankato Democrat said.

The bills call for at least seven changes, mostly expansions to state-funded services.

Perhaps the largest is a $5 million-a-year expansion of a grant program to bring mental health services into schools.

Dr. Mark Sander, a clinical psychologist with Hennepin County, testified at the Senate's Health, Human Services and Housing Committee that problems with child care, transportation and having to leave work are barriers to children getting mental health services.

"If your child needed therapy weekly, it's a lot of time for a student to be away from school," he said.

He said a similar program in Minneapolis, running since 2005, showed a correlation -- he didn't say how strong -- between the program and scores on reading tests.

Gov. Mark Dayton included $7.5 million for the program in his two-year budget, so Sheran's bill would increase that amount by $2.5 million over two years.

It's a program that would have helped Jennifer Thomas, a Maple Grove woman who testified about her family's struggles to treat the mental illness of their 12-year-old son, who is currently hospitalized.

She said her son has "scary, negative thoughts that are hard to understand and hard to get out of his mind."

"He has reported at times he'd rather not live at home because he is afraid he will hurt his siblings if his symptoms get out of control," she said.

It would have helped, Thomas said, to have mental health care in the schools.

She said other problems included long waiting lists, a lack of coordination in the mental health system and a lack of coverage from private insurance causing more out-of-pocket expenses than they can afford.

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