Children and mental health care: ‘It’s OK to ask for help’


Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Mariah Bryant, seen here in the living room of her group home in the Heights, is looking forward to living on her own someday, and to a career in the medical field.

Mariah Bryant has seen a lot of troubles in her 15 years.

She was mostly neglected by her parents, who were into drugs and alcohol, and when she was 6 her mother dropped her off at Mariah’s grandmother’s house and never came back.

Mariah has suffered from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, and in school she was often subjected to bullying. Even so, she sounds surprisingly optimistic.

“I hear other people’s stories and I feel pretty lucky,” she said.

Her story shows that while it can be very difficult to access mental-health care in Montana, help is available.

“Reach out and do whatever you can,” Mariah said. “It’s OK to ask for help. You don’t have to suffer through it alone.”

Over the years, she has received help from the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch and from the Billings Clinic Psychiatric Center, which she called “a really good place to find myself when I was feeling lost.” Most recently, her help has been coming from Youth Dynamics Inc.

Mariah has been living in a group home in the Heights for about a month now and she is attending Skyview High School. The group home is run by Youth Dynamics, which also provides Mariah with counseling and a case manager.

Mariah’s grandmother, Nadine Bryant, said the case manager has been invaluable. When Mariah was recently hospitalized for nearly a day for depression and anxiety, Bryant said, her case manager was by her side almost the whole time.

“I can call them (YDI) in a heartbeat and they are right there,” Bryant said. “They’ve been lifesavers.”

Bryant also lives with and cares for her own elderly mother. Looking after her mother and granddaughter for many years was a struggle, she said.

Mariah said she always loved her great-grandmother, but they continually clashed because “we’re both so much alike that it’s crazy.” One of her counselors told her she and her great-grandmother were basically “allergic” to each other.

That’s why, after living with her grandmother since the age of 6, she is now in that group home, living with seven other young people.

“It’s good to have kids who’ve gone through things like you have,” she said.

Mariah’s mother is still out of the picture, but her father, Wayne Bryant, has been sober for 18 months and he is working. He still has to complete a few more steps before Mariah can live with him again, but he is determined to take her in, and Mariah is more than ready.

She said she talks to her father two to three times a week and sees him regularly, and despite the trauma of abandonment, “he inspires me. He’s my hero.”

Mariah is one of about 900 youths served in any given month by Youth Dynamics. Teri Jackson, the clinical director for Youth Dynamics, which is based in Billings, said that in terms of providing services to young people with severe emotional disturbances, the organization has “the largest footprint in Montana.”

It offers services in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Missoula and Helena and in 13 smaller communities, including, in Eastern Montana, Colstrip, Glasgow, Glendive, Havre, Malta, Miles City and Wolf Point. Each location also provides direct services to families within 60 miles of its office.

Jackson said the only real gap in service statewide is in the Lewistown-Judith Gap-Harlowton area. There used to be a YDI office in Lewistown, she said, but for whatever reason there was not enough demand for services to support an office and staff.

More information

You can learn more about Youth Dynamics by clicking here. To reach any Youth Dynamics office in the state, call 877-458-7022.

Youth Dynamics provides a wide range of services, including mentoring, counseling, case management, equestrian therapy, in-home support, foster care and group homes.

Jackson said 99 percent of Youth Dynamic’s budget comes from reimbursements from governmental programs or private insurers, and she acknowledged that youths on Medicaid, like Mariah, have access to the widest variety of services.

Children who don’t qualify for Medicaid but are covered by Healthy Montana Kids (formerly CHIP, or Children’s Health Insurance Plan) may face some limitations. Families with private insurance are limited to outpatient therapy, medication management and residential treatment facilities.

Every agency, including Youth Dynamics, offers a sliding fee schedule based on family income, Jackson said, but if a child needs one-on-one help or access to a group home, it can be very expensive.

Still, she said, families should learn about what programs are available and seek help if they think their children need it.

“I don’t know if parents in general are aware of the services available to them,” she said.

Jackson also wishes there were more public support for children with mental-health problems. She said an estimated 30 percent of youths struggle with some kind of emotional or behavioral problems.

“I think communities in Montana need to recognize it’s a problem,” she said. “It’s not just parents not parenting children or children not behaving.”

In response to an increase in teen suicides in Montana, the state Office of Public Instruction applied for an was awarded a Project AWARE grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It is good for $1.7 million a year for five years.

Youth Dynamics is collaborating with OPI, using the grant to train thousands of people across the state to be able to identify mental illness or substance abuse in children, and how to steer them toward the help they need.

Nadine Bryant, Mariah’s grandmother, was fortunate enough to be employed at Billings Clinic, where she has worked in the medical records department for 38 years. People at the clinic’s Psychiatric Center helped her get Mariah into Youth Dynamics. A lot of people could used the kind of help she’s been getting, Bryant said.

“There’s so many of us grandparents out there raising these kids,” she said.

The people at Youth Dynamics, particularly the people who work at the group home, really get to know each child as a person, Mariah said: “They don’t treat you like a diagnosis.”

“I’m feeling really good,” she added. “I’m a lot different from what I used to be.”

Youth Dynamics is also teaching her skills she’ll need to live on her own someday. She turns 16 this summer and says six months after that she can got to court and seek formal emancipation, which would allow her to live on her own.

She wants to live with her father, she said, but if things don’t work out she wants to be able to rely on herself.

“I think I will” be ready, she said. “I’ve always been mature for my age.”

“I wouldn’t change the past for anything,” she added, “because I wouldn’t have gotten to the point where I am now.” She has also weaned herself from medication. “I just keep on keeping on,” she said. “I use coping skills.”

For a while she thought she wanted to be a therapist, but now she’s leaning toward the possibility of working in the emergency department of a hospital, or as an emergency medical technician. Her grandmother says Mariah is well positioned to pursue her dreams.

“I think with the people she’s got working with her, she’s got a really, really good chance,” she said.

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