Teen Patient Joins BayCare in Advocating for Improved Access to Mental Health Services
This week, 17-year-old Lizzy from the Tampa Bay area joined nearly 50 pediatric patients from across the nation in meeting with their members of Congress as part of the Children’s Hospital Association’s annual Family Advocacy Week. Lizzy is a patient at BayCare’s Behavioral Health Center at Winter Haven Hospital, and together with her parents and leaders from BayCare, is advocating for improved access to mental health services for children and families.
Lizzy began exhibiting issues with impulse control and oppositional behaviors at 7 years old, which led to a diagnosis of ADHD, anxiety and depression. After several physical altercations in school initiated by Lizzy and demonstrating unintentional dangerous behavior, she began treatment that included medication and counseling.
“The incidents at school really opened our eyes to things Lizzy had probably been experiencing for some time,” said Andrea, Lizzy’s mother. “It was actually a blessing because we were able to identify the diagnosis while she was still young and begin medical treatment that would help her.”
As Lizzy got older, she began experiencing more intense episodes of depression and after feeling extremely fragile during one incident she was briefly admitted to an in-patient treatment center. While it was a traumatic experience for Lizzy and her parents, her mother notes that it did help Lizzy find a counselor that she really connects with.
“She’s non-judgmental and I feel like she really listens to me,” Lizzy said. “It’s great to have someone I can talk to about difficult things. She’s helped me so much during the past five years.”
Lizzy and her parents, Joe and Andrea, were joined by BayCare Behavioral Health Services Vice President Gail Ryder, Winter Haven Hospital Center for Behavioral Health Clinical Director Jeff Ware and BayCare Federal Government Relations Manager Lorena Hardwick during virtual meetings with U.S. Representatives Gus Bilirakis, Kathy Castor and Darren Soto. They also met with staff from the offices of Reps. Vern Buchanan and Scott Franklin and U.S. Senator Rick Scott, and will meet with Sen. Marco Rubio and staff from Rep. Charlie Crist’s office next week.
“Children with mental health challenges need specialized care and early intervention to make meaningful progress as adults,” said Gail. “Meeting with our members of Congress is an important way we can share these vital patient stories and educate those who can make a difference – our lawmakers.”
During the meetings, Andrea shared that while medication has helped, the support Lizzy receives through her counselor from BayCare’s Center for Behavioral Health at Winter Haven Hospital has been crucial in helping her understand and manage her ADHD and depression and move forward.
“Mental health parity is essential to health care,” said Lorena. “Together, Lizzy’s family and BayCare are asking Congress to enforce parity laws to remove the barriers to mental health care and create access to affordable services.”
The family also hopes that sharing their story highlights the benefit of telehealth services for mental health care. Having access to her counselor during the pandemic was vital for Lizzy, and her family is grateful she could continue her sessions from home through BayCare’s telehealth visits.
“Maintaining permanent telehealth flexibility is essential for families with complex health care needs,” Lorena adds.