Kids these days. According to Patrick Dale, CEO of Headway Emotional Health Services, a Richfield-based provider of emotional health services for children, adults and families, the number of teens in need of mental health care is on the rise in Minnesota. And the number of programs that offer day-treatment services for them has shrunk.
“Young people are facing an increasing number of life stressors,” Dale said. The emotional fallout from those adverse childhood experiences manifests itself in a number of mental health issues: “At Headway, we see kids who are dealing with a wide range of issues that also affect adults, including depression, anxiety, ADHD and bipolar disorder. Kids and families need help, and they are willing to go to great lengths to get it.”
Headway, originally called Storefront Youth Action, and then The Storefront Group, was founded in 1970 by a group of suburban parents who wanted to help children and families in crisis in their communities. In its 40-year history, the program has grown to include a number of offerings. One central focus is adolescents; Headway’s Hopkins-based day-treatment program offers young people with mental health issues an opportunity to seek therapy while continuing to take high school classes.
This fall, in response to what they see as a growing need for adolescent mental health treatment, Headway expanded its offerings for teens when it opened a new day-treatment program in Brooklyn Center. The new program, like its sister location in Hopkins, will offer comprehensive mental health care and education for up to 40 children ages 12-18.
“The population is definitely there,” Dale said. “The response to this new program has been enthusiastic, and we’re excited to have another opportunity to help families.”
Just days before Headway’s Brooklyn Center branch opened, I met Dale at the Hopkins day-treatment program. He was excited to tell me about Headway’s mission and history.
MinnPost: You’re expanding Headway’s day-treatment programs for adolescents. Why?
Patrick Dale: The demand for services for kids in this age group has been growing over a four-or-five-year period. And in the last few years a few of the programs that work with teens have closed due to budget issues. Today, Headway is one of just two or three programs that work with kids in early adolescence through high school age. There just aren’t a lot of day-treatment options available in the state for kids ages 12-18.
The impact of these shortages has been seen at other programs, too. Take Prairie Care. They offer a hospital setting for kids aged 18 and younger. Before they opened in 2009, there was a lack of facilities offering that type of service. From Day One, Prairie Care’s utilization rate has been something like 99.6 percent. Fairview has also had an increase in demand. Kids are getting transported to different cities, different states to find secure psychiatric services: There is that level of demand at the crisis end.
MP: Is some of this increased demand for services due to an increasing comfort around talking about mental health?
PD: The perception of the need for this kind of treatment has certainly changed over the last five years. Children’s mental health has become a topic that people are more aware of and more willing to talk about. Parents and other adults are starting to look for treatment alternatives for kids who are struggling with mental health issues. We’re not ignoring things as much as we used to anymore.
But the increase in adolescents seeking mental health care may also have to do with changes in the adult population. The majority of adolescents experiencing mental health issues these days are mirroring what’s going on with adults.
It’s great that as a society we’re finally talking about mental illness. This increased awareness gives us a language to use to describe what is going on in people’s minds. When I was in school, kids who struggled were called “weird” or “dumb.” They were isolated in a special class.
MP: The news has been scary lately. Do concerns about terrorism and security impact the mental health of teens?
PD: I think there are challenges in the world that leave some kids feeling overwhelmed or lacking in the coping skills that they need to survive. Some kids can hear about the bad things that happen in the world, like incidents of terrorism where people get killed, and they’re resilient. They can say, “The likelihood of that coming to my neighborhood is low. I’ll move on.” But other kids become really concerned about what would they do if something like that happened in their world. They lose the ability to deal with it rationally.
In the ‘50s, during the Cold War, adults would say, “Those are evil people who live far away from us.” There was the threat that someday those bad people might come here and do something bad, but it was a more abstract threat. Some kids were scared, but there was a belief back then — whether it was realistic or not — that there were things you could do to prevent something bad from happening to you. Now the treat comes from inside. Cultivating that feeling of distance doesn’t always work anymore. Safety is something kids today take seriously.
MP: What symptoms do teens exhibit when they are experiencing a mental health crisis?
PD: These feelings take on many forms. They go by many names. But they tend to manifest themselves in an overall failure to adequately participate in life. A kid might become withdrawn, end relationships, find new friends, shut down or completely separate from others. They become less verbal, less social, they have a decrease in the amount of time they spend on the activities that they used to enjoy. Sometimes, they might go in the other direction and get hyperactive.
MP: What is the Headway model of day treatment?
PD: For us, education and therapy are tied inextricably together. There are day-treatment models where the kid goes to their regular school or an alternative learning center in the morning, and then buses from school to a separate program where they get therapeutic services in the afternoon or evening. At Headway, school and therapy are tied together with the intention that as kids address their mental health issues, they can also work on developing their academic skills.
MP: Are there teens whose mental illness is so severe that it is becomes impossible for them to go to school?
PD: In a perfect world, the answer to that would be “No.” It is age appropriate and essential for kids to be educated. But sometimes, in rare instances, there are times when mental- or physical-health issues interrupt a child’s ability to learn.
MP: Can you tell me more about your new Brooklyn Center program?
PD: It is a sister program, identical to the program we’re running in Hopkins. It serves kids of the same ages. We have the same education program, the same structure, the same schedule. We located in Brooklyn Center because we want to provide a resource in a part of Hennepin County where there are a limited number of options available for kids with mental illness.
Capacity in our Hopkins program is 40. They’ve been operating at 40-45 students for the last two years. The Brooklyn Center program is also designed for 40 students. The assumption was that we would start with enrollment in the low teens. Due to strong demand, we started in the low 20s. The need for the program and the choice of location seems to have borne out.
MP: What brought you to Headway?
PD: Some people might say that I’ve always been here! I’ve worked at Headway in one form or another for 30 years. That’s my whole career. I earned my bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and then I did my internship at a chemical dependency program.
Because my family has an extensive history with chemical dependency, I always had an interest in working with adolescents and young adults in crisis. I was aware of a program known as Way 12. I knew about it because my brother had been a resident there when I was growing up. I began looking for work in the spring of my senior year in college and found out there was an opening there. I got the job. I graduated college on Saturday and started work on Monday. Way 12 was a program operated by Headway. I’ve been here my whole career.
I was lucky to find a place that shares my values. I’ve never felt the need to go someplace else for work. I have been lucky enough to be able to move up in the organization and become one of the voices that determine how we are going to treat people here — both employees and clients.
MP: What are your goals for the rest of your career?
PD: I want to work myself out of a job. In a perfect world, Headway will provide support and services that will help each client be able to move on and live their life to the highest level they can achieve. I think that in the majority of cases we are able to do that.
I have no plans to go anywhere else. I never felt like leaving was going to provide me any better opportunities than staying would. I’m proud of my decision to stay here. This job has met all of the goals I was hoping work would offer me.