Matt, 16, likes hockey, music and girls.
Stacy, 15, writes poetry, plays the saxophone and is training to be a model.
Terrance, 16, enjoys music, writing and meeting new people. He often volunteers in hospitals.
Jessica, 16, loves animals and photography and plans to attend college and then graduate school.
What sets them apart from other teen-agers is they've been diagnosed with a serious emotional disturbance.
Matt, for instance, says he's been prescribed "practically every medication" in the Physician's Desk Reference to treat his attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Two years ago, Stacy wouldn't go outside "and just do things normal kids would go out and do," like play baseball or ride her bicycle. Terrance says he would "mope around the house" while other kids his age would be outside playing.
Jessica attempted suicide.
Their common experience? Each has been disappointed and frustrated when their mental health providers have left them for other jobs or clients.
"The purpose of this session is for you to hear their voices, not ourvoices," psychologist Stu Koman, PhD, said during the Miniconvention on Serious Emotional Disturbance at APA's 2000 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., Aug. 48. "And it is their voices we want you to walk away with and remember."
Therapists need to remember that clients view the mental health profession as more than just a job, said Koman, a member of APA's Committee for the Advancement of Professional Practice, which sponsored the session.
"Kids are opening themselves up to us, the families are opening themselves up to us and we have a sacred trust with them that we have to fulfill," he said.
Psychologist Diane Marsh, PhD, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, interviewed the adolescents, who talked about their diagnoses and their experiences receiving mental health services.
Q. How old were you when you first had symptoms?
Matt, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD and depression: About 10. I was diagnosed with ADHD. They recently added bipolar. They gave me five million different diagnoses. And then they just put it into one and said "Oh, let's do this one." They thought maybe I had Turret's and all this stuff, but I'm just obsessive compulsive and bipolar.
Terrance, diagnosed with bipolar disorder: I've had it ever since I was 7 and it started pretty much with a learning disability back in elementary school. A teacher decided it was more than just a learning disability, so they took me to a therapist, and that's where she got to the root of the problem and discovered it was manic. But I hadn't experienced head-on depression until I was 10. Your average 10-year-old was outside playing, having fun and I was in the house moping around all day, aside from going to school.
Stacy, diagnosed with severe depression: Probably right around 12. I didn't know it was depression to start with. My parents noticed something was wrong.
Jessica, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and ADHD: The depression started when my mother and dad split up and got divorced when I was 6. I was in the third grade. When I was 9 I was having problems in school and someone talked about ADHD.
Q. What types of services have you received?
Matt: A neurologist, psychologist, psychiatrist, mobile therapist and behavior specialist. Any profession there is, I've had it. The most helpful were my mobile therapist and behavioral specialist because they worked as a team and listened to me. But when I started getting better the behavioral specialist said he had too many patients and had to drop some.
Terrance: I had a regular therapist I would see once a week and when things got a little bit more traumatic I started seeing her twice a week. When I was younger she was just someone that would listen to me, someone that offered me advice. Ever since her, a lot of my therapists would come in and we'd talk and I'd get attached to them and trust them, and they would leave for another profession, so it was like I had to start all over again with someone new. It's hard getting attached to new people every time.
Stacy: My experience is almost just like Terrance's. They'll have somebody talk to you, and once you start getting used to them they have more important issues to take care of. And they give you to somebody else and then it takes you twice as long to get used to them, and then they do it again. And that's been really hard, and that's why I say that my family and friends are more supportive, because they can't go and switch them on you.
Jessica: I was 11 when I went to the hospital. I tried to commit suicide, and then I got out. And then I went back there two months later for the same thing. I went to the long-term residential thing, and I was there for all of junior high. Now I'm in regular classes. I don't take any medications.
Q. What medications do you or have you taken?
Matt: If it's in the [Physician's Desk Reference], I've taken it. Depakote [for bipolar] and clomipramine [for obsessive-compulsive disorder] have been the most helpful.
Terrance: I've taken Zoloft, Lithium and Prozac. They put me back on Zoloft again. I've been on it for about six months now and I've noticed some improvements. There are fewer hours during the day that I feel depressed. I know I have a long way to go, but that's the minor improvement that I've experienced so far. The medication is more helpful inside, and the therapist is more helpful for me to prepare a solid ground.
Jessica: I was on Prozac for a while.
Q. What impact did your mental health problems have on your friendships?
Terrance: To be honest, I never really had much of a social life. When I was younger I had friends, but as I got older, I grew more and more isolated.
Stacy: There was a point where I couldn't go and play with friends. Just within the last two years, going through therapy and with help from my friends and family, I have been going outside more. I go out in public more. I'm more confident in myself.
Jessica: It's really hard to meet friends who understand because nowadays you can't find real friends. It's hard to maintain friends. I only have one real, real good friend and I get a lot of support from her.
Q. Is there anything that didn't help?
Matt: Teachers not knowing how to deal with or not wanting to deal with their students' problems. One year you'll have a great teacher, the next year you'll have the total opposite. One will work with you, the next year the other one won't work with you so it's like playing pingpong. It's the same thing that makes a difference in a therapist.
Jessica: Something that I did not like, and it's the same for all four of us, is that counselors leave. And once you start clicking and you're starting to talk about it, then the counselor leaves and you have to start all over again and you're not getting anywhere.
Stacy: From my understanding, [therapists] should actually treat us like a human being, not just as their job. At least hear what we have to say, because a lot of them don't. It's always, "yeah, yeah, sure, yeah, I know what you're talking about." And they're sitting there writing. And yeah, I know that's part of their job, but I mean, I don't think they're listening.
Terrance: I agree with Stacy. Even though it is a job, I think there should be a little bit more sensitivity, a little bit more warmth to it. That's what gets people to open up a little bit more. You just want to be heard.
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