On October 1, 2021, newly-revised legislation will take effect in Maryland that allows minors age 12 and older to consent to their own mental health treatment, without needing to obtain parental consent, if the health care provider decides that the child is mature enough to consent to treatment.
Proponents of the bill assert that this will allow greater access to mental health treatment for high-risk youth (especially those in the LGBTQ+ communities), youth in abusive family situations, and youth whose families, religions, and cultures stigmatize mental illness. They also cite the increased need for mental health therapies by all individuals during this pandemic, and hope this change will reach some of our most vulnerable individuals.
Opponents of the bill expressed significant concerns about young people making uninformed or poor provider choices. While the law does require the health care provider to make a determination that the minor is mature enough to understand the concept of consent, opponents argue that this strips away parental rights and also could expose young people to mental health treatments or therapies that they may not fully understand. In addition, there are questions regarding how the minor will be able to handle payment for the mental health services, especially when covered by a parent’s insurance plan, without ultimately involving a parent in any way.
Parents should consider this new law in the context of their own families, and determine whether a conversation with their own children is appropriate. While this is an excellent effort to get important services into the hands of those who need them, expect to see some workarounds, and perhaps some amendments to the law, as it gets put into practice.