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Services for childhood mental illness have increased and the stigma has decreased since Debby Ganaway’s 14-year-old daughter, Katy, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the early 1980s.

But Ganaway, who until 2013 ran NAMI-Racine County, said many challenges remain. There are still too few therapists in many parts of Wisconsin, including Racine. And some providers won’t accept children with government-subsidized health care plans because of low reimbursement rates. Families, especially poor ones, also may not be able to transport children to far-flung appointments, she said.

“The barriers are somewhat different now, but they’re still critical,” Ganaway said.

That’s why Ganaway has “great hope” for two initiatives. One is a community-wide push, the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health sponsored by the Johnson Foundation, that seeks to knock down barriers for local children and families needing help. The other is the ongoing push by the state to boost funding and access for such services, including founding the Office of Children’s Mental Health.

“I do believe our legislators are listening, are concerned, and want to make this health care available to families,” Ganaway said.

Katy’s struggles did not end well. She took her own life in 2004 at age 30 after a head injury from a car accident damaged her memory, Ganaway said. It’s a fate that Ganaway hopes other young people with mental illness can avoid.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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