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May 4th, 2017 is National Children's Mental Health Day

May 02, 2017

Partnering for Health and Hope:  Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

May 4, 2017 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day and May is Mental Health Month.  Research shows that half of all lifelong mental illnesses develop before age 14 and as many as one in every five children have or will develop a mental health problem in their lifetime (see www.nimh.nih.gov).  Mental illness cannot be prevented.  It cannot be cured.  It can be treated.  

The national focus for Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is on integrating behavioral health and primary care for children, youth and young adults.  This year’s theme is “Partnering for Health and Hope”.  By helping children and their parents as early as possible, better outcomes are possible and the likelihood of the development of some disorders is reduced.  Mental health problems become more difficult to treat once a mental illness fully develops because it is more ingrained in the child and becomes part of normal behavior. 

Children experience and stress just as adults do, and they react differently from adults.  Not every problem is an indication of a serious mental illness.   It could be serious when there are problems in more than one area – at home, at school, during play time, or around friends.  Changes in sleeping or appetite can signal a problem.  Social withdrawal or being fearful of people or places they previously were not may also signal a problem.  Returning to behaviors typical of younger children like frequent bedwetting or thumb sucking might also signal a problem.  The child might be sad or tearful frequently.  Head banging or cutting on themselves or having a tendency to get hurt more than other children can signify a problem.  Fits of rage, angry outbursts or assaultive violence may signal a problem.  Repeated thoughts about death can be a sign there is a problem.  Children exposed to tragedy or extreme stress may need professional counseling and treatment.   When in doubt, seeing a mental health professional is the best way determine the problem and the treatment.    

Some of the kinds of mental illnesses that affect children include adjustment disorders, substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorders, eating disorders and attention deficit disorders.  In addition to symptoms, how well the child is functioning is also considered:  at school, at activities, with peers, and their age and maturity level.        

Behavior problems at school are not unusual and do not necessarily mean there is a mental illness.  If your child has problems at school over a period of time, consider requesting an evaluation from the teacher or the school principal.  If there is a mental illness problem, once the mental illness is successfully treated, behavior problems in classroom diminish.   Children with mental illness achieve better when they feel understood from their teachers, parents and family.  It is important to keep your child’s teachers informed about your child’s mental illness, treatment and progress so everyone stays on the same page. 

When a child suffers from mental illness, there can be frustration, blame and anger among members of the family.  Unhealthy interaction patterns may develop.  The family has to learn to handle difficult situations and behaviors.  Parents may benefit from practicing stress management techniques to help them deal with frustration so they respond calmly to their child’s behavior.  Mental health professionals help children and their families discover new skills and develop new attitudes and ways of communicating with one another.  Counseling helps families find better ways to manage disruptive unacceptable behaviors and encourage behavior changes.   

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been on the rise over the past 20 years.  Now it is the most commonly diagnosed behavior disorders in children and more common in boys compared to girls (www.nimh.nih.gov).   ADD and ADHD are characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.  Inattention includes daydreaming, being easily distracted, concentration problems, unable to follow directions or complete tasks or being forgetful.   Hyperactivity includes being fidgety, unable to stay seated, always running or walking or talking constantly.  Impulsivity includes problems with blurting out answers before questions are complete, interrupting or difficulty waiting for their turn.  Medication and counseling are effective for 70-80 percent of children.  While primarily a childhood illness most common in elementary school age children, some continue to experience symptoms into early adulthood.   Stimulants (amphetamines), non-stimulants and antidepressant medications are effective in treating ADD and AHDH.  Adding counseling along with medication produces the best results.  Counseling without medications may also be helpful for some children.  One study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that individuals treated with counseling alone had fewer or less obvious ADHD symptoms.  Science has proven that dietary changes (no red dye, low sugar for example) and/or vitamin treatments for ADD and ADHD are not effective (www.nimh.nih.gov ).   We all know that a well balanced diet contributes to improved overall health, even though it is not effective alone in treating mental illness. 

Experiencing childhood trauma is another common problem in the US today.  Like adults, children react differently based on the circumstances of the traumatic event.  A one-time traumatic experience may not produce a lifelong disability or mental illness.  Multiple traumatic events over time can cause a child to be more affected.  As adults it is important that we listen to children and that we believe them as a starting point to help them cope.  Children exposed to traumatic events need professional counseling and treatment as soon as possible. 

Professional counseling has been demonstrated to be effective in reducing symptoms of emotional/behavioral disorders.  In addition to counseling, it may also be helpful to have a psychiatrist prescribe medication.  Many, but not all, medications used to treat adults are safe and effective for children.  Getting professional help as early as possible, staying in treatment and including families in treatment with mental health professionals is the most important step to take.    

Prestera Center offers access to effective professional mental health and addictions treatment services for children and their families across nine counties in West Virginia.  Prestera Center is always accepting new clients and scheduling appointments. Walk-ins are welcome Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. at most locations.  Visit www.prestera.org for information about services and locations.       

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