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Ohio's child behavioral health system is at a 'breaking point'

The number of children seeking help for depression, anxiety, and suicide is overwhelming the system because there are not enough therapists to treat them.

Kevin Landers

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Published: 5:47 PM EST February 10, 2022
Updated: 6:56 PM EST February 10, 2022

Waiting six months to a year for a child to see a mental health professional for ADHD, anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts in Ohio is “unacceptable for sure,” says the Director of Ohio’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Lori Criss.

Mental health professionals across Ohio and across the country say their profession is at a "breaking point."

The number of children seeking help for depression, anxiety, and suicide is overwhelming the system because there are not enough therapists to treat them. That’s despite the fact that over the past three years Ohio has dedicated more than $1.2 billion for student wellness.

A new federal law mandates that, as of July 16, every state must have a call system for people to seek immediate help for mental health or substance use crises. 

The 988 system is a dedicated call-in line for dispatching trained staff to respond to mental health and substance use emergencies. Ohio is working to get the new phone line up and running.

“It's a crisis consultation over the phone then links to other services and supports,” said Lori Criss, the director of Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Lisa Denino of Columbus has seen firsthand what it is like to be placed on hold as she struggled to find a mental health therapist for her daughter.

Her daughter was adopted from Russia and at 3 years old she says her daughter began expressing behaviors that she knew immediately were not normal.

“Around three she started to display really behaviors that were not typical. They weren't the terrible twos or anything that other moms I spoke to were familiar with,” she said.

Denino says she desperately tried to find help for her daughter.

“Nobody wanted to work with a toddler and insurance wasn't going to cover it anyway and nobody believed me until they saw the video,” she said.

She showed us the video of her daughter on the floor screaming.

Denino says it took her three years on a waiting list to find a child therapist to work with her daughter.

The waiting, she says, just made her child worse.

“It gets progressively worse because as she is supposed to be maturing and fitting into societal norms that child is not doing that so there are more and more disappointments every day,” she said.