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Parental consent may not be required for some teens to get mental health assistance

A few years ago, Mental Health Matters, a student group at Hopkins High School, worked to examine the factors that kept students from receiving mental health services at school.

One of the major barriers they identified is – perhaps surprisingly – the requirement for parental consent, Liv Steen, a senior at the school, told the House Behavioral Health Policy Division Wednesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins), HF375 would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to consent to mental health services on their own.

It was approved, as amended, 10-0 and referred to the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee. There is no Senate companion.

Minors are currently required to get parental permission to pursue mental health services, even though they could check into an inpatient facility on their own.

“We’ve all witnessed the growing stress that our young adults face today,” Youakim said. “This bill is a small step that we can take to give our students the tools they need to access mental health supports before things become dire.”

Whether because of language barriers, the stigma of mental illness, family dynamics, or cultural and generational differences, young people may struggle to bring up problems with mental health at home, and find themselves confronted with instructions to “suck it up,” or claims that mental illness “wasn’t real,” testifiers said.

Even in households where mental illness is perceived as a medical issue and a valid topic of discussion, students can still encounter resistance when asking for support.

“Letting them go to therapy is like admitting their child is suffering. No parent wants their child in pain,” said Steen, who cited generational differences as a major reason why it took an unnecessarily long time to convince her parents to let her pursue therapy.

There’s only so much that teachers and counselors can do without the option of making a mental health referral, said Juwaria Jama, a member of the Minnesota Youth Council and a junior at Spring Lake Park High School, who struggled to get professional help for depression.

The current requirements could also prevent or delay young people in abusive homes, homeless youth, and runaways from getting much-needed help, said Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood).

Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview) suggested considering an expansion of the bill to include 14- and 15-year-olds.

The bill would not exclude parents from the treatment process, or prevent the development of healthy support systems. It would simply give therapists more flexibility to engage those parents in the safest and most effective way possible, said Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI Minnesota in a written statement.

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