Families of mental health teens finding difficulty in getting help

ATLANTA — Trisha Thornton keeps a stack of documents detailing two years of delinquent behavior committed by her 15-year-old daughter Shaniya.

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“Every time I report her missing, I get a new police report,” Thornton said.

Thornton has been advocating for long-term help for her daughter who also lives with schizoaffective disorder.

Family Psychologist Roslyn Pitts Clark says Thornton’s daughter is in a troubling grey area, where the offenses she commits aren’t severe enough for juvenile courts to send her to a detention center. And many behavioral health facilities don’t have the manpower to keep up with the intake of new patients.

“Seven out of 10 youth in our justice system also have some sort of mental health issue, so it’s very prevalent within this population,” said Clark.


Earlier this year Shaniya was placed on probation under the supervision of Fulton County Juvenile Court, at Thornton’s request for running away frequently.

Just last week Thornton says, police were called, after Shaniya attempted to set fire to a gas station in Clayton County. The owner didn’t file charges.

Pitts Clark says parents in this position should try getting in contact with a psychiatric social worker, who can help parents navigate the court system and connect them with proper programs.

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Pitts Clark, says the severe understaffing at facilities is also contributing to the problem of many families being turned away.

“The health system can be very, very difficult, there’s a shortage of clinicians, there’s a shortage of beds, there’s a shortage of staff,” said Pitts Clark.