The Department of Mental Health (DMH) is a state agency that supports children and adults with mental health needs. DMH connects individuals and families to mental health services in their communities, and also provides services directly to clients. DMH works with mental health service providers, individuals, families, communities, and other state agencies to provide quality mental health care. DMH also works on public policy issues that affect those with mental health needs and supports research on mental health issues.
Who DMH Serves
DMH provides services to adults with mental health needs. DMH also serves children and youth who are 18 and younger. DMH serves children and youth with the following mental health conditions:
- Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Dissociative disorders
- Eating disorders
- Borderline personality disorder
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder
DMH requires that the child/youth has either had their diagnosis for one year, or it is expected that they will have the diagnosis for a year or more. Finally, DMH requires that the child’s disorder results in a “functional impairment.” This means that the disorder limits the child’s ability to develop certain types of skills. These include social, behavioral, cognitive, communication, and daily living skills.
Types of DMH Services
Individual Youth Support: These are community-based mentoring services for youth. These services give youth the opportunity to learn social, communication, educational, and employment skills, and help them learn how to interact with their peers.
Youth Support Groups: These community-based support groups provide recreational, after-school, and weekend group activities for youth to help them develop social, emotional, and employment skills. These services usually last between 6-8 weeks.
Therapeutic Day Services: These are intensive community-based services that are provided to a child or youth throughout the entire school year. These services help children and youth develop the skills that they need to successfully live at home and in their communities.
Family Systems Intervention: These are intensive services for children and their families that can be provided in the home or in the community. A clinical team connects families to local resources and service providers to help the child/youth learn to live in the community. The team also helps families develop skills to cope with the child’s difficult or challenging behaviors.
Residential Treatment Programs: Residential treatment programs are secure, short-term services for children and youth who need structure and assistance from staff 24 hours a day. The goal is to help the child/youth stabilize and develop new skills so they can learn to live more independently. Access to these services requires an acute inpatient referral.
Continuing Care Inpatient Services: These are secure treatment programs for children and youth who are considered to be a danger to themselves or to others. These services also require an acute inpatient referral.
Caring Together: Caring Together, a partnership between DMH and the Department of Children and Families (DCF), combines residential treatment services with community-based services, with the goal of helping the child/youth transition from a residential program back into the community.
Applying for DMH Services
To apply for DMH services, the child’s parent or legal guardian must fill out the Child/Adolescent Services application. The Child/Adolescent application is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Haitian.
The Child/Adolescent application packet includes three types of forms:
1) A Request for Child/Adolescent Services form
This form asks for background information about the child and parent/legal guardian, including name, address, phone number, health insurance information, educational information, and information on the child’s mental health disorder.
2) DMH Service Authorization form
A parent/legal guardian must sign this form to formally ask DMH to determine if the child is eligible for services. By signing the form, parents/legal guardians confirm that they understand and agree to important parts of the application process. These include allowing DMH to review medical records, recognizing that the parent/legal guardian will have to share health insurance information, and that DMH may request a personal interview or another clinical evaluation during the application process.
3) Authorization(s) for Release of Information
These forms give DMH permission to contact the child/youth’s mental health provider, school, and/or physician. DMH will ask them questions to help determine if the child/youth is eligible for services.
All three of these forms must be complete before DMH will review the application. DMH also recommends that the parent/legal guardian include other documents with the application to help speed up the process, such as:
- Any psychiatric assessments completed by a licensed clinician in the past six months
- Hospital admissions/discharge reports, if the child was hospitalized in the past six months
- A copy of the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) if the child has one
Once the application is complete, it should be sent to the family’s DMH Regional Office. The Child/Adolescent application includes information to help families find their regional office, and it also has the mailing address for each office.
If you have questions about applying for services, call DMH at 1-800-221-0053.
Additional Resources for
What Happens Next
DMH can take up to 40 days to make a decision about whether or not the child/youth is eligible for services. During that time, DMH may contact parents/legal guardians to ask for more information, such as requesting a personal interview or asking for an additional clinical evaluation.
If the child/youth is approved for DMH services, a caseworker will contact the family to begin working on an individualized plan to meet the child’s needs. Families are considered partners in this process, so the individualized plan must be approved by the parent or legal guardian before it is put into place.
If the child/youth is approved for services, but there is a waitlist, the DMH regional office will share information about other services and resources that are available that may help the child/youth. The regional office will also contact the family once the services become available. At any time, the parent/legal guardian can withdraw their application if the child/youth no longer needs DMH services.
If the child/youth has been denied DMH services, the family can appeal the decision. First, the parent/guardian should contact their DMH regional office and ask for a meeting with the Area Director. If the issues cannot be resolves during this meeting, then there are other steps that the parent/guardian can take depending on why the child/youth was denied services.
Additional Resources for
Massachusetts Association for Mental Health (MAMH): MAMH helps families access mental health services and provides assistance to families applying for DMH services. MAMH also does public education about mental health issues and advocates on public policy matters on behalf of people with mental health conditions. To contact them for assistance, call 617-742-7452.
NAMI Massachusetts: NAMI Massachusetts has information on services for children and families on their website. NAMI Massachusetts also provides assistance to families who have questions about mental health services in the state. To contact them for assistance, call 617-704-6264.
Parent/Professional Advocacy League (PPAL): PPAL advocates on behalf of families whose children have mental health needs. PPAL has information about legal resources, opportunities for youth engagement and leadership, and trainings for youth, parents, and service providers.