SPECIAL REPORT | Need for child, teen mental health resources

By  | 

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Ken Adams was diagnosed with depression in 6th grade, and little did he know, it was just the start of a rough road ahead as he worked through mental health struggles.

"It was a lot of panic attacks, getting angry fast, something wrong I knew, my mom knew," Adams said.

Middle school included plenty of stress which included: fluctuating weight with the balance of medication, injuries and changing of schools.

"What my middle school experience was, was I would stay the same height, for about six months, shoot up five inches. Stay the same height, and shoot up again, but it was really about finding the balance between my meds and me," Adams said.

In 8th grade, Adams was sick with viral meningitis, and was in and out of school.

In 9th grade, the stress felt heavier than ever. He found out his dad had cancer and his family worked to find stable housing.

In 10th grade, Adams started a new school, ended up breaking his foot and life felt heavy again.

"In July or August, I was in a cast," Adams said. "Instead of crutching around, they had me on a scooter, and then again, I was kinda the, 'Oh, look at that kid.' That was my first attempt."

"The first time, I tried to swallow a bottle of pills, and I think I got a couple down, and I was like, what am I doing, and told my mom," Adams said.

Adams' mother helped him get to a treatment center, but there was a wait, something families across our area are also dealing with.

"They said Meriter was full. That it was going to be about a week before I would get into the next spot on the waitlist," Adams said. "It was the worst, and waiting for Mertier was awful."

Adams got treatment at Rodgers Memorial inpatient hospital in Oconomowoc, Wis.

"They [staff at Rodgers in Oconomowoc] kind of let me do whatever I wanted," Adams said. "I would roam around there. They didn't have enough beds in the adolescent side, so I was in the middle of the kids side. There were times I couldn't go into my room, couldn't go to the bathroom, had to use the staff bathroom. That wasn't fun because I still had my cast still."

After Rodgers, Adams started school at Horizon High School in Madison, Wis.

"Things were good again. Then I grew again, broke my knee, same leg, broke my knee, dislocated it and broke my Tibia," Adams said, " ... that was my second attempt, and last attempt, I attempted twice, and they sent me to CAP [Meriter Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Hospital]. That was life changing."

The second time Adams was admitted to CAP, he had to wait a 4-5 days on the waitlist before he could check in. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (CAP) provides care for young people ages 6-18 with severe behavioral health challenges such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and self-harming behaviors.

"There are kids waiting weeks to get in," Adams said. "...If I hadn't committed myself, wanting to be better, than I honestly, with that wait, I don't know if I'd be here."

Adams described what went through his mind before and during his attempts.

"When I was at that moment, I'd like to say I was thinking anything. It's one of those, you're at the point, where you feel so hopeless and lost and sad, you just stop thinking, and go this isn't ever going to go away, and I might as well make it go away myself," Adams said.

After time in CAP, Adams learned the news his father had overdosed and died. However, because of his time in CAP, Adams said he had the tools to cope.

CAP was built in 2003 and opened in in early 2004. It began tracking the waitlist in 2011. According to Meriter data released to NBC15, the following shows wait list numbers from March. 1, 2011- Nov. 25, 2018:


  • In 2011, starting on March 1: the average number of waitlisted children was 1 and adolescents was 0.5. However, the total number of children and adolescents in total for 2011 was 472.

  • In 2012: the average number of waitlisted children was 2 and adolescents was 3. However, the total number of children and adolescents in total for 2012 was 883. The longest waitlist for the year was in May with 13 waiting.

  • In 2013: the average number of waitlisted children was 4 and adolescents was 3. However, the total number of children and adolescents in total for 2013 was 1,285. The longest waitlist for the year was in May with 16 waiting.

  • In 2014: the average number of waitlisted children was 5 and adolescents was 3. However, the total number of children and adolescents in total for 2014 was 1,489. The longest waitlist for the year was in May with 14 waiting.

  • In 2015: the average number of waitlisted children was 6 and adolescents was 6. However, the total number of children and adolescents in total for 2015 was 2,158. The longest waitlist for the year was in February with 28 waiting.

  • In 2016: the average number of waitlisted children was 4 and adolescents was 3. However, the total number of children and adolescents in total for 2016 was 1,382. The longest waitlist for the year was in March with 14 waiting.

  • In 2017: the average number of waitlisted children was 6 and adolescents was 4. However, the total number of children and adolescents in total for 2017 was 1,821. The longest waitlist for the year was in May with 16 waiting.

  • In 2018, so far up to Nov. 26: the average number of waitlisted children was 2 and adolescents was 1. However, the total number of children and adolescents in total so far in 2018 was 1,154. The longest waitlist for the year was in March with 20 waiting.

"That's really scary to have to turn them away," Dr. Katherine Schmitt said, a psychiatrist at UnityPoint Health Meriter Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Hospital.

Meriter started keeping track of the waitlist starting in 2011.

The numbers fluctuate, and often there are more waiting during the school year compared to summer months.

"One of the things I notice the most, is we're seeing depression and anxiety presenting much younger," Schmitt said.

Schmitt said the demand for more mental health resources for children and adolescents is urgent.

"Waiting is hard," Schmitt said. "Waiting is hard, I can't imagine that a lot of acute medical illnesses would manifest with a waitlist."

In 14 years, the number of children admitted to Meriter's mental health facility each year has more than doubled from 300 in 2004, to 800, according to data from Meriter.

The data also revealed the following for discharges for children and adolescents in the past 10 years:


  • 2010: 624

  • 2011: 703

  • 2012: 757

  • 2013: 779

  • 2014: 838

  • 2015: 844

  • 2016: 853

  • 2017: 814

Meriter is one of eight inpatient centers in Wisconsin serving children under 18 years old, and the only one in the 11-county NBC15 viewing area.
Other inpatient hospitals in the state include:


  • Rogers Memorial in Oconomowoc

  • Rogers Memorial in Brown Deer

  • Rogers Memorial in West Allis

  • Aurora Psychiatric Hospital in Wauwatosa

  • Bellin Psychiatric Center in Green Bay

  • St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton

  • Wheaton-Franciscan All Saints in Racine

In just the last three years: Meriter served children from 60 different counties, spanning a number of states according to the data.

"The expansion is really meant to focus on the kids waiting," Schmitt said.

Meriter is expanding the facility on Madison's southwest side by 10 beds to 30 in all. The project will double the footprint of the existing space, add more patient rooms, new indoor and outdoor therapy spaces, upgrade existing facilities and introducing much needed intensive day treatment programs that are presently unavailable in the community. By 2020, Meriter expects to increase the number of kids served on the inpatient unit from 800 to 1,400, plus 3,000 new day treatment visits annually.

Schmitt hopes the expansion will be enough to eliminate the waitlist.

"I don't want to have to say no to a single kid who needs a place to be if they're in crisis," Schmitt said. "Not only do we want to help them whenever they are here, but set up a team once they leave so they don't have to come back so they can be successful with their family and friends."

Fortunately for Adams, he was able to get help.

"If I hadn't committed myself, wanting to be better, then I honestly, with that wait, I don't know if I'd be here," Adams said.

Adams said no child or teen should have to wait to get help with mental health.

"It's [waiting on a waitlist] playing with some kids life. I was in a really dark spot, and I was like I need help because I want to be here, but there are kids who don't see that light right away"

It's been since January of 2017 since Adams received treatment at CAP, and he said it saved his life.

Now, the 18-year-old can look forward with the skills he needs to handle anything life throws his way.

"There are times when I will take a couple steps backwards, but I have my family behind me, and I know I have people counting on me. I need to do it for myself as much as I need to do it for them," Adams said.

A groundbreaking happened on Nov. 5, 2018, and construction is underway for the expansion.

Schmitt also said they've only had to admit 40-50 children and teens, which proves care they provide proves successful, all the reason why the resources are important.

The makeup of those admitted from October 2015-September 2018, according to Meriter data:

There were 1,168 female patients, 712 male patients and four not identified.

Age range of patients:


  • 6 years old: 25

  • 7 years old: 44

  • 8 years old: 58

  • 9 years old: 62

  • 10 years old: 86

  • 11 years old: 106

  • 12 years old: 166

  • 13 years old: 206

  • 14 years old: 286

  • 15 years old: 366

  • 16 years old: 364

  • 17 years old: 307

  • 18 years old: 59

Most patients use Medicaid or commercial insurance. Others use Blue Cross to cover care.

If you or a loved one is in need of care, call 911, the crisis line below or click to the resources to the right of this article.

24-Hour Crisis Line: 608-280-2600

The Child and Adolescent Psychiatry accepts referrals from psychiatrists, mental health professionals, social service agencies, school systems and insurance companies. Staff also evaluates potential patients for admission to learn which treatment option is most appropriate to the person’s needs.