Ron Jeagerby Ron Jaeger, GPS Board Member

I’ve been looking over my notes from the King County Mental Health Forum last November.  The forum touched on two of my favorite objectives for legislative advocacy.  They are both general but apply to a lot of the changes I believe that families want to see:

1) Empower families and communities to help loved ones

2) Incentivize the systems to help people as early as possible

You may remember the comments of Jim Volendroff, the new Division Director of King County Mental Health and Chemical Abuse Dependency who said  “As an adolescent, I had my own struggles with depression and anxiety and have experienced involuntary treatment which saved my life.” 

SHB 1450 concerns involuntary outpatient mental health treatment.  SSB 5649 is its companion bill.  This is not compulsion.  It creates incentive.    It requires a plan identifying readily available services.  The services are incentivized by having a judicial mandate to serve.   Families are empowered to take action knowing the services are upheld by the law and won’t be challenged.

It would be counter-intuitive to authorize only treatment for adults after they and their families have suffered years of consequences while neglecting the stage of life where help might have been applied to prevent those years of suffering.  Fred Jarrett, the Deputy King County Executive mentioned how  “Looking ahead, we want to increase our efforts to prevent severe mental illness and addictions… With earlier assessment and recognition of behavioral health problems, we can help children and youth before mental illness or addiction steals their chance for healthy lives and futures.”

It is not a stretch to wish for an involuntary law similar to SHB 1450 to help persons between the ages of 13 and 18.    Indeed, the beginnings of it may already exist under the heading of an At-Risk-Youth petition for adolescents through the Juvenile Court system.  That current section of the RCW and its corresponding WACs might benefit from a review to determine whether they adequately empower both systems and the family to seek and find helpful services at crisis points in a youth’s life.  I believe those thoughts are consistent with Penny LeGate’s plea for parents to organize a kind of coalition to challenge the law that allows a 13 year old child to walk away from treatment without their parents’ consent.

In an era of transforming health systems, new discoveries about neurological development and modernized information systems, opportunities must exist to empower families and incentivize the systems to provide help for youth struggling through substance addiction, traumatic stress reactions and stages of atypical brain development.  We are just beginning to tap those opportunities and we need the legislature’s help.  Without change, our current directives risk sanctioning an unstable future by incentivizing inaction as the most comfortable and least contentious response for systems and communities during formative adolescent years.