Special Report: Teens with mental health


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Updated: 2/28/2013 9:57 am Published: 2/27/2013 9:02 pm


FOX23 found two local teens accused of murder also have a history of mental illness.

Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau authorities admit sometimes troubled teens slip through the cracks.

In December, deputies say 14-year-old Joshua Mooney burglarized a Jenks home and shot and killed a woman who interrupted him. 

Then in January, detectives say 17-year-old Henry Laird beat his own mother to death with a shotgun in their home.

This wasn't the first time either boy had been in trouble. FOX23 filed an open records request and analyzed stacks of documents.

Juvenile court records show a history of trouble for Mooney. When he was in eighth grade, Mooney "stabbed a pig" in a school livestock barn and faced a judge in a juvenile courtroom more than 10 times in 2012. Just before Christmas, detectives say he committed murder.

Records show Laird had beaten his mother twice before. A probation counselor wrote his mom was "afraid of Henry."

But two weeks later, the court placed Laird under house arrest. Seven months after that, detectives say he beat his mom to death.

Both boys were among more than 2,000 kids who came to the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau last year.

Director Brent Wolfe says 9 out of 10 kids don't come back.

"Those are the kids that don't make it on the news," Wolfe said.

But those who do come back, he calls the five percent.

"Those that are seriously challenging," Wolfe said.

Brent believes those teens may be a danger to themselves and others.

"We're always struggling to find the best place for them," Wolfe said.

Sometimes there is no place to send them.

State budget cuts slashed juvenile justice funding by about $19 million since 2010. That's about 17 percent.

Right now, crews are tearing down L.E. Rader. It was Green Country's only secure juvenile detention facility. It closed in September 2011.

Now high-risk kids may go on waiting lists.

"The bigger issue is do we have the appropriate treatment for them," Wolfe said.

Treatment for what he says is an undeniable correlation between juvenile crime and mental illness.

"Absolutely there is, absolutely, there's no question," Wolfe said.

Wolfe says at least three out of four kids who come to the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau are dealing with some sort of mental illness: kids like Mooney and Laird.

Court records show Laird wasn't taking his prescribed medication for anxiety and stopped participating in anger management counseling.

FOX23 found Mooney was placed at two different behavorial health hospitals, that he "has severe mental health issues" and threatened suicide. He was diagnosed with depression and and put on three medications. Despite weekly counseling and the case worker's request for more, within two months, he was accused of murder.

"We may not in the State of Oklahoma have the best treatment," Wolfe said.

Wolfe admits he doesn't have all the answers.

"They're sometimes just going to slip through the network, unfortunately," he said.

If the adults don't have the answers, maybe the kids do.

Teens at Edison Preparatory School meet each week because of what they've seen.

"It's happening right in front of our faces," said Senior DeShannon Netters.

This school year, authorities say a Jenks student brought a pipe bomb to school, a Bartlesville student plotted an attack on his school, and a Coweta ninth grader shot himself in the school bathroom.

"Some of us actually want to stop it and take a stand and speak for people who are afraid to," DeShannon said.
The group started small - with DeShannon, seven other students, and one adult - Valerie Isaacs.

"It's just grown exponentially," said Isaacs, the SafeTeam coordinator.

Since school started, 35 Edison students joined SafeTeam. It's a pro-active program started by the Mental Health Association in Tulsa. 

"It's a way we can learn how to help each other," Isaacs said.

It's now at nine Green Country high schools.

"It's the students standing up and saying this might be happening in other schools, and it's tragic and horrible, and we're not going to let that happen here," Isaacs said.

The teens tackle tough issues like bullying,  depression, and suicide.

SafeTeam students made a video - with statisics that moved them to want change.

"Fourteen percent of students have seriously considered suicide, three-fourths of students in... school shootings told somebody about their plan. Fifty percent told more than one person. What if the people they told had gone for help?" students say in the video.

The idea of SafeTeam is to train a diverse group of students who can then infiltrate the school and intervene when kids need help.

"Kids will tell kids before they'll tell their mom," DeShannon said.

"You have to find those students falling through the cracks and those no one is paying attention to," Isaacs said.
DeShannon says she personally has put a stop to bullying, fights, and likely even prevented suicide.

"We're making our school safer... we're making a difference... people are actually listening," DeShannon said.

FOX23's Janna Clark wanted to interview teens with mental illness. She was talking and texting with two kids who really wanted to help people understand what they go through.

But at the last minute, they both backed out. Both actually had anxiety attacks about doing the interview.

Here are warning signs from the Mental Health Association in Tulsa that teens may need help:
  • mood or behavior changes
  • a loss of interest in school and activities
  • not wanting to go to school or ride the bus
  • a sudden change in friends
  • also, watch for physical symptoms
  • chronic headaches or stomach aches.  
Nearly half the time, those who commit suicide have seen their primary care doctor within a month. 

Teens can get free help from the Mental Health Association in Tulsa. You can call (918)585-1213.

State funding for The Oklahoma Department of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Services has been cut by about $27 million - about 13% - since 2009.

The governor says the state cannot ignore the mental health needs of kids. Her call to action -  more money. She wants to allocate $16 million toward programs to get children help at an early age and for suicide prevention.

Lawmakers will decide on the budget in May.

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