Educational institutions are attempting to provide more students with therapy services. However, not all parents are in agreement.

. Educational institutions are attempting to provide more students with therapy services. However, not all parents are in agreement.

Derry Oliver had a conversation with her mother about seeking therapy when she was in fifth grade.

During the time her mother was in New York searching for job opportunities and a new place for them to live, she resided in Georgia with her uncle and grandparents. This separation was difficult for her, and as a result, 17-year-old Oliver experienced feelings of depression. A staff member at their school suggested the possibility of seeing a therapist.

Derry Oliver, who is also Oliver’s mother, raised concerns about the school’s evaluation and did not approve of therapy. She remembered thinking, “You’re still so young. There is nothing abnormal about you. These are just normal pains of growing up.”

The problem resurfaced during the COVID-19 outbreak when Oliver, the younger sibling, faced difficulties with remote learning and sought assistance from her high school in Brooklyn. While school-based mental health professionals, such as social workers, can offer counseling without parental consent, in New York, seeking more intensive therapy for a student usually requires the parent’s approval. This resulted in further disagreements in Oliver’s situation.

“It was an emotional experience for both of us as I empathized with her frustrations and fears,” remembered the younger Oliver. “However, I believe it is important for our children to have access to this rather than keeping it from them.”

Amidst a surge in youth mental health concerns caused by the pandemic, schools around the nation are addressing the complex legal, moral, and logistical obstacles of involving parents in treatment. This matter has become a contentious topic, as certain states seek to simplify treatment accessibility while conservative leaders in other areas suggest stricter measures, accusing schools of attempting to influence students and exclude parents.

Differing perspectives on mental health aren’t new for parents and kids, but more conflicts are emerging as young people get more comfortable talking openly about mental health and treatment becomes more readily available. Schools have invested pandemic relief money in hiring more mental health specialists as well as telehealth and online counseling to reach as many students as possible.

“The issue lies in the disconnect,” stated Chelsea Trout, a social worker at a charter school in Brooklyn. “The students are immersed in TikTok and the internet, and are familiar with therapy jargon and the potential benefits for their mental well-being, but lack the explicit approval from their parents.”

Studies indicate that the requirement for parental consent can pose a major obstacle for teenagers seeking treatment.

Having access to therapy is crucial, especially for LGBTQ+ youth. They are more prone to suicide attempts compared to their peers, and their parents may not be aware of or support their sexual orientations or gender identities. Jessica Chock-Goldman, a social worker at Bard Early College High School in Manhattan, shared that she has encountered numerous cases where mental health problems escalate due to delayed therapy.

She stated that many children were admitted to the hospital due to thoughts or plans of suicide because the efforts to prevent it were not successful.

The topic of when minors can give consent for mental health treatment is gaining more notice among government officials. Certain states, such as California and Colorado, have recently reduced the age of consent for treatment to 12. However, in states like North Carolina, this issue has become part of larger political discussions about parental involvement in curriculum and the rights of transgender students.

One major challenge that exists beyond legal barriers is the cost of therapy, as it is typically not provided for free. In order to cover the expenses or file insurance claims, parental assistance is often necessary.

In New York, teenagers who are 16 years old or above can give their consent for therapy. In certain cases, doctors have the authority to approve treatment for younger children if they believe it is beneficial. However, there are conditions to be aware of. These laws only pertain to outpatient facilities that have been approved by the state, and they do not cover the prescription of medications.

Eric Adams, the Mayor of New York City, has revealed a collaboration with Talkspace to offer cost-free virtual therapy services to teenagers in the city. The initiative, called NYC Teenspace, does not require insurance, however, parental permission is necessary. Exceptions may be made in certain situations, as stated on the program’s official website.

Oliver and her mother have had several discussions over the years, resulting in some improvement, but not enough therapy for the younger Oliver’s desires.

A few years back, the Olivers came to a mutual agreement. They located a female therapist of Black descent, a crucial factor for their Black family. The older Oliver has personally experienced the hurt of being labeled as “aggressive” for simply expressing her emotions as a Black woman. She has also had unpleasant encounters with therapists and antidepressants, which made her feel devoid of emotion.

The elder Oliver agreed her daughter could start therapy — as long as she sat in on the sessions. But the therapist changed jobs after about a month, and Oliver hasn’t seen another therapist since.

The older Oliver expressed the importance of finding a trustworthy therapist for her daughter.

According to Trout, a social worker at a charter school in Brooklyn, she has come across several parents who, like Oliver, have doubts about the school’s suggestions. They question the necessity of therapy for their child when they are doing well academically and socially.

“If we consider communities predominantly composed of Black and brown individuals, and if your past experiences with social workers, mental health services, or any related resources have been negative,” she asked, “how can you have faith in them when it comes to your children?”

According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, statistics indicate a disparity among races. In 2021, 14% of Caucasian children stated they had sought therapy at some point during the year, while only 9% of Black children, 8% of Hispanic children, and a mere 3% of Asian American children reported the same.

Oliver, who does not have access to therapy, has turned to her friends, school social workers, and the internet for guidance on managing her emotions. However, she strongly believes that she would benefit greatly from ongoing professional assistance.

Oliver has been accepted into multiple colleges, much to her mother’s delight. She is currently considering her choices for the upcoming year.

One factor she is contemplating is the level of access to therapists that they provide.


This article has been updated to clarify that Derry resided in Georgia with her uncle and grandparents, not her brother.


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