One in five Virginia children and youth suffer from mental disorders—and in about half of those cases, it's so severe that it's disruptive to the home and school life.
And while incidents like Sandy Hook and the Virginia Tech shootings have brought more attention to the issue, parents of children with these disorders say it should NOT take another tragedy for government officials to finally respond to their calls for additional help.
Christy Gallagher of Fairfax County was one of many parents waiting outside a gubernatorial candidates’ forum on mental health. Gallagher’s 11-year-old daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was eight. Life had been difficult, and Gallagher thought once they knew the diagnosis, life would get easier. But she says even with medication and psychiatric assistance, a sudden episode sends the child and everyone around her into a frenzy.
"You might be stable for awhile and everything might be going well but you're constantly in therapy. You're constantly--not only is the child in therapy but the rest of the family's in therapy. For example, I'm in therapy, our younger son's in therapy, my husband's in therapy, and occasionally, the whole family's in therapy," explained Gallagher.
That’s very costly, and Gallagher says the state has limited resources. This means crisis intervention teams are often not readily available, leaving police with inadequate training to respond. Finally, Gallagher says otherwise good children are branded as "bad." Both gubernatorial candidates say they plan to address mental illness, especially since so many youth diagnosed with it contemplate suicide.