Teenagers on Whidbey Island who are struggling with substance abuse or have a mental disorder have few options for treatment.
Island County Human Services staff recognized the gap in youth behavioral health care and recently approached Sunrise Services, a behavioral health care company, to see what can be done. By the end of January, the provider hopes to offer counseling and group therapy services to 13 to 17 year olds who are on Medicaid for mental health and substance use disorder, according to Jace Angelly, behavioral health executive director.
The process will be the same as it is for adults, but the “curriculum” may vary depending on age, he said. Teenagers seeking care will start with an appointment at the organization’s Oak Harbor or Coupeville offices in which they’ll meet with either a mental health professional or substance use disorder professional to set a baseline for treatment and discuss the patients’ background and why they’re seeking services, Angelly said.
These young people would then start one-on-one therapy sessions. The professionals who will guide the sessions are trained to work with youth, he said. These sessions will mostly focus on building a relationship and trust between the patient and clinician, Angelly explained, and will gradually move toward helping people gain skills and understanding of their diagnoses.
Group therapy is the next step, he said. The two groups will consist of youths between 13 and 15 years old and 16 to 17 years old.
“That’s probably where you have the most powerful change and the most powerful help for the individual,” Angelly said of group sessions.
“It really helps them to connect with other people and to have the support around what they’re going through,” he later added.
He’s been meeting with school counselors in Oak Harbor and Coupeville to talk about the need and referrals once the service is up and running. Young people who are interested in booking an assessment will also have the option of calling or walking in during drop-in hours after school. Angelly said he also hopes to partner with the districts to do in-school training or outreach.
The idea is to expand the program to serve children on private insurance as well and those who live on South Whidbey.
Early intervention can be fundamental to improving the lives of young people with a mental health disorder or addiction problem, Angelly said. Changing behavior is one goal, he said, but it’s also important for them to understand that there are people who accept them and resources to help.
The issue is personal for Angelly, who has a brother with a serious mental health disorder.
“If we had these types of services when my brother was younger,” he said, “I don’t think he would have had as much emotional pain as he had.”