“We Wait”- Mental Health Testimony

The following testimony was delivered at IMPACT’s Rally on April 7th by Judith Looney, Member of First United Methodist Church.

Good evening, my name is Judith Looney and I’m a member of First United Methodist Church. I would like to take a moment and tell you about my daughter and our navigation through the mental health care system in Virginia. My daughter changed during the summer before she started her sophomore year at high school. She became withdrawn, preferring to spend her summer in the basement watching old TV shows. When I tried to ask her what was wrong, she would just cry and become angry with me. She also began self-harming behaviors, some of which I was unaware of at the time. I was frantic, I didn’t know who to turn to, and so I began emailing her school guidance counselor for advice. She directed me to Region Ten counselors within the school but I had to wait until school started in a month.

When school started the Region Ten counselor felt that my daughter needed her own therapist. I had no idea how to find one who was skilled working with adolescents with depression and eating disorders. We learned that we needed a team consisting of a psychiatrist, a nutritionist, a pediatrician and the therapist. This is when I learned the limits of our health coverage. I was distraught because we had to pay out of pocket for the nutritionist and the psychiatrist did not accept insurance due to unfair rules from the insurance companies. In spite of all this support, my daughter could not seem to pull out of her depression, anxiety and eating disorder and continued to lose weight. We decided to get her hospitalized for the eating disorder and the only hospital our insurance uses was Sheppard-Pratt in Baltimore. This was not a good fit for us: It was very far away, and there was no separate facility for youth and adolescents. My daughter went through the program, and for a time was frightened into eating well, another reason I didn’t think it was a good program. In fact, over time she has gone back to her bad eating habits. Fortunately her team has prevented her from totally giving up and she recently has gained some of the weight she lost over time.

In December, my daughter had a breakdown; she could not stop crying, and started scraping her arms raw, so we had to take her to the emergency room for help. We learned that Martha Jefferson no longer has any mental health practitioners on staff and we had to online video chat with a doctor at UVA. He recommended that she be admitted to an emergency facility. Then the scary part began. Once the doctor recommends treatment, parents have no say where she goes; it is whatever bed is available. She was admitted to a facility in Richmond, ran by VCU.

The VCU team told me that my daughter would benefit greatly from an in-patient facility in Hampton Roads, where she would stay for three months and relearn how to live. It sounded wonderful, but our insurance won’t cover it. Programs like these can cost as much as a 4 year degree! The psychologist at VCU then recommended an out-patient facility in Richmond which would provide 24/7 team support, something I haven’t been able to get in Charlottesville, and which our insurance would pay for. Unfortunately, I have been on their waiting list since December, and am waiting along with people from as far away as Washington DC and North Carolina. So, despite the urgency of our situation, we wait.

That is my family’s story. We are not poor, we have health insurance, but we don’t have enough resources to be able to get everything we need to help our daughter get better. We have to work through the system and it is a tangled maze. Over the past 2 years my family has been gone from school counselors, to Region Ten counselors, to Sheppard-Pratt in Baltimore, to VCU… and we still have not gotten the help she needs The care we need just isn’t here. If it is, we have to wait. The more that we can increase care here locally, the better off we will all be.