At age 13 minors can refuse mental health treatment in WA, local mom fought to change the law

SEATTLE - Suicide among teens is a serious problem.

The latest numbers from the state department of health say the number of kids feeling hopeless is up from previous years and that suicide attempts are also increasing.

In fact, suicide is the leading cause of death among 15 to 19 year olds in Washington state.

The state says last year 89 teenagers died by suicide.

That’s why mental health is an issue lawmakers felt compelled to tackle. A new plan set to now become law aims to make it easier for parents to get involved with teens struggling with mental illness and substance abuse.

A local mom is the driving force behind the new initiative.

Peggy Dolane’s uphill battle to change state law started more than 3 years ago after she tried to get mental health treatment for her children. She says current law makes it hard for parents to get proper treatment for mental health issues for their kids; not only that, in some cases parents are shut out from getting any information at all.

But because of Dolane’s fight things will be different.

“This is the first step and it’s a huge first step,” Dolane said.

It’s been a relentless pursuit to expand behavioral health treatment for Dolane.

Q13 News first talked to Dolane in 2018 in the midst of her battle to change the law.

“I am elated obviously from starting from a place where people said this was an unsolvable problem,” Dolane said.

The problem at hand was how to change mental health laws pertaining to kids.

In Washington state teenagers as young as 13 years old have to consent for their parents to participate in their behavioral health treatment. This means teens can easily refuse any treatment and also keep their parent or guardian from knowing about what’s going on.

Mary Hart knows that struggle first-hand. Last year she sat down with us to talk about the challenges she faced to help her suicidal daughter who initially refused counseling.

“It was really hard to get through to her because she was really depressed,” Hart said.

The new initiative that passed in the legislature this session will give parents more rights to intervene.

Expected to take effect in July of this year, the new law will give parents access to certain treatment information. It also allows them to put their child into an outpatient treatment of 12 sessions over 3 months even without a child’s consent.

“Will it make a difference? Absolutely it’s going to take make a difference. You are not going to have children told your parent don’t have to know what’s going on with them,” Dolane said.

The change comes at a time when suicide rates are increasing.

According to the state’s Healthy Youth Survey, in 2008, 29% of 12th graders experienced hopelessness for a two week period. In 2018 that number jumped to 41% feeling hopeless.

The survey also determined that in a typical high school sized classroom of 29 students about 2 to 3 students have attempted suicide in the past year.

The reality is sobering, but Dolane is here to make a difference.

She says she will continue to fight to expand mental health treatment for kids statewide.

State Rep. Noel Frame was instrumental in getting the law tweaked.

She says the initiative strikes a balance where a child can keep their rights but it also gives parents an avenue to help their kids.