09/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mental Health -- Even With Insurance Patients Are On Their Own

Have you ever tried to get mental health care for a family member? I mean even with insurance.

My heart goes out to families whose children turn eighteen and suddenly doctors won't talk with them -- they're out of the loop. And if young patients won't seek or accept medical help, as one doctor told me today, "it has to go to a stalemate." The patient has to be found on the street or go over the line and be arrested - hopefully not shot in the process.

Even then, the patient will be lucky to get a few days of care before being sent on his way without adequate follow-up care.

What happened to our understanding that people with mental illnesses do things to show they want our help? Patients not mentally well enough to know where to seek health care and those who've give up are lost because help from someone else is intrusion. It's really messed up.

If you have a child with ADHD or Asperger's Syndrome, for example, don't expect to be able to be of much help after he or she turns 18. You're out of the picture. Really! I know that's hard to believe. But it's true.

You may be seen as an intrusion, an obstacle, or part of the problem, but you're not going to be a partner unless your child asks for you to be involved. If he thinks he is old enough to handle his own health care, or confused enough to believe so, hold on because you're in for a long, tough time of worry and frustration.

Since you can't help, the medical system will not serve his needs. They know such patients can't speak for themselves. They know you've been kept in the dark, so you can't do anything. So he'll get some attention and then off he goes - maybe to the streets because they don't have to call you.

You have to wonder if they keep this going so they can toss patients away whenever it suits. Surely psychiatrists somewhere must know this is wrong. Surely there must be some with the guts to speak out on behalf of patients who need help even if they don't ask and who need an advocate even if they don't know it.

With no one to advocate for patients, it's easy to abandon them and it saves money. The current system makes this possible. How about that for a nation with supposedly superior health care!

It's inhumane to say the least. And that, believe it or not, is even if you have insurance.

Dr. Reardon also blogs at bardscove.

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