A look into Utah children’s lack of access to mental health care

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The Centers for Disease Control reports that 10-20% of Utah children experience a mental health disorder every year.

That means around 90,000 children in the state of Utah will experience a significant mental, emotional or behavioral challenge. The Children’s Center of Utah reported that 58% of children who receive clinical diagnoses do not go on to receive follow-up treatment or counseling.

Calista Perazzo is a mother of three in Springville. She and her family are learning how to balance daily life with their mental illnesses. Perazzo and two of her three children have ADHD. 

“It doesn’t mean we’re bad. We don’t have to feel guilty and ashamed because of the way that we think. We should feel proud. We should consider it our superpower,” Perazzo said. 

Beckham Perazzo is nine and is learning to live with his mental illness.

“I have ADHD so I can focus on more things at once, and I recognize a lot more at a time,” Beckham said. 

Tessa Perazzo is 12 and has ADHD. She said support and understanding can make all the difference for kids with mental illnesses. 

“They’re different, but they’re not an alien. They’re still a person with thoughts and feelings and opinions, and that should be respected,” Tessa said. 

Even though their mental health challenges have brought their family closer together, it hasn’t been easy. Perazzo said it’s a fight to get the care she and her kids need.

“No one else cares like I do. No one else will fight for my kids like I do. So if I give up, there’s no one for them,” Perazzo said.

Perazzo said she has learned it’s common for kids, and hers in particular, to mask or hide their symptoms while at school to fit in and not be a distraction. Once they are home, kids take off their masks. They’re tired. That’s when the ADHD becomes more pronounced. 

This has made it difficult for Perazzo and her children to get the help and diagnoses they need. If school teachers don’t see the symptoms, they can’t report back to health care providers to aid in the children’s diagnoses.

Melissa Blumell is co-owner of Innsaei Child and Family Therapy in Orem. Her practice is focused on helping the entire family through their challenges. 

“Kids are inherently built with a capacity to heal and to play and play their way through healing,” Blumell said. 

Blumell said there are many reasons why children in Utah go without mental health care. There is a lack of therapists, families can’t afford care and some don’t know how to navigate insurance or feel like if they get help it means they failed. 

“Families need support from the community in order to be able to keep bringing their kids to therapy. Instead of asking why this is happening to this child or family, it’s asking yourself what can I do to help,” Blumell said. 

Beckham said healing and help for mental illnesses needs to be a family effort.

“It’s not just the kid who needs to learn. The family has to help,” Beckham said.

Several resources for Utah families include: Open Path, a website that connects people with local therapists who are willing to reduce their rates; the Refuge in Orem which offers limited amounts of free therapy sessions; graduate student interns who have discounted rates and government programs like Safe Utah.

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