Dr. Wendy Walsh: The scenarios are tragic and heartbreaking. Imagine this: A middle schooler is being bullied at school because of his emerging sexual orientation, but he can't tell his parents because their religious beliefs may make them punish him more. And he can't talk to a counselor without his parents' consent. Or this: A 12-year-old girl is being sexually molested by her mom's boyfriend, and her mother is both blinded by her love for the perpetrator and financially dependent on him. And the girl can't breathe a word of the crime to her school psychologist without getting her mom to agree. Or this: A child of drug-addicted parents runs away and becomes homeless. At 14, after living on the street for two years, his life is so dismal that he contemplates suicide. A social services agency finds him and wants to intervene. But they can't until they track down the deadbeat parents and get their permission.
Thanks to a new law in California that goes into effect on January 1st, 2011, all of these minors will now be able to get help without a nod from their moms and dads. According to the new law, minors 12 and over will be able to get mental health services without parental consent. In the past, this freedom was only awarded to children who were determined to be victims of parental child abuse. The author of the bill made a clear case that the old law discriminated against some kids, including gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender youth, youth from immigrant families, homeless youth and youth from cultural backgrounds that do not believe in mental health services.
As a doctor of psychology, I continually emphasize that the key to youth mental health is early intervention. It is crucial that adolescents get talk-therapy before their symptoms include drug abuse or attempted suicide. And, in case you're wondering, the law does not allow minors to get electroshock or drug therapy without parental consent. For any parents who are worrying about their eroding parental rights, I remind you that the way to ensure that your kids "keep you in the loop" is to keep the door of communication open when they are young. Don't be afraid to talk about whatever your children bring up, whether it be drug use, crime or sexuality, and be prepared to seek help together when you don't have all the answers.
Youth mental health is in the spotlight this month for another reason as well, thanks to Los Angeles Laker Ron Artest. Last spring, I silently did the touchdown cheer when Artest, after helping the Lakers win the NBA Championship, minutes later thanked his psychotherapist on national television. Then, last month, he announced on CNN's "Larry King Live" that he would auction his priceless championship ring off to charity to benefit youth mental health.
Artest has come a long way since 2003, when ESPN Magazine called him "The Scariest Man in Basketball." His violent outbursts were legendary, and included attacking a fan who had thrown a cup at him during a game. These days, the NBA champion -- a former child of divorce, domestic violence and tragic sibling
death -- sits across from Larry King unashamed to talk about his mental health. He explained that he has been the beneficiary of anger management therapy, marital therapy and even parenting classes. And he swears it all worked for him.
His website crashed during the show as people flocked to the Internet to pledge as little as two dollars per ticket to earn the chance to win Artest's championship ring. (I personally hope that whoever wins it does the classy thing of returning it to Artest.) The lottery takes place on Christmas Day, and Artest hopes that millions will be raised to bring free or subsidized health care to youth who are suffering emotionally. You can enter by clicking here.