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In mental health care, listening is the key

Kristen Soderman, 16, with her mother, Tina Soderman, at their home in Barre. Kristen spent more than a month "boarding" at Boston Children's Hospital, waiting for a psych bed so she could receive treatment.Christiana Botic for The Boston Globe

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey’s article on the plight of young patients seeking mental health care is both shocking and unsurprising (“Pandemic worsens psychiatric care crisis,” Page A1, Aug. 8). Children and adolescents seeking help with behavioral/emotional/mental health issues have faced waiting lists for years. Nonetheless, Kristen Soderman’s story is appalling. She spent a month in a hospital room, monitored for safety, but with no opportunity to “process what she was feeling.” Apparently, no one had time to sit with Kristen and listen as she tried to make sense of her experience. We don’t know if her hospital stay was helpful for her or only discouraging and destructive. We do know it was expensive and did not provide what she or her family needed. Surely, we can do better than that.

There are ongoing efforts to expand mental health resources for children in Massachusetts. As these efforts go forward, it is worth asking: What difference could it make for a person in Kristen’s situation to have someone available every day to listen to them? Listening, without trying to diagnose or “treat,” is a skill and takes some training and support. As long as people with emotional/mental distress are “stuck” in waiting situations, a cadre of listeners might be a worthwhile investment.


Ann Fleck-Henderson


The writer is a professor emerita at the Simmons College of Social Work.