Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kids, Mental Health and Hope

I like to think that I am a 'glass half full' kind of person. Generally, I try to see the good in people and situations, and am hopeful about change- if I weren't, I'm not so sure that counseling would be the best field for me! All that to say... I noticed the other day that while I was reading an article about young people and mental health, I found myself taking a 'glass half empty' mentality. Why??

Well, according to a survey funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) which will soon be published in the journal Pediatrics, 13 percent of all children and young teens have at least one 'mental health disorder.' And of that 13 percent, only half have been evaluated and treated by a mental health professional. These facts indicate that while one half of young people are being treated, one half are not. This is a staggering number when considering that half of all youth with mental illness are receiving no treatment or help at all.

This survey sampled 3, 042 children between the ages of 8 and 15, and the findings were based on assessments of these children for six common mental disorders--anxiety disorder, panic disorder, eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia), depression, ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and conduct disorder. For a bit of perspective, imagine if half of young people who deal with diabetes or asthma were living without medical treatment. To think about the number of children and teens who are suffering from untreated mental health issues is alarming. And sad! Research indicates that when mental health issues are not treated, they typically persist and become more severe with age. (I wrote a blog awhile back on teens and depression that addressed this issue- follow this link to read it and to learn some of the symptoms of childhood/teenage depression.) This is concerning because young children and teens who suffer from eating disorders, for example, and are not being treated are at serious risk for many physical and psychological problems. This is a serious issue!

The article suggested that part of this problem is due to the fact that there is a shortage of mental health workers that specialize in treating children, specifically psychiatrists. So what is a parent to do?? Perhaps we need to focus on educating more parents and teachers about the symptoms of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, ADHD, etc.. in children and teens so that they are able to notice the warning signs and advocate for their treatment. While mental health professionals have the tools and knowledge to diagnose and treat, parents and teachers are able to notice patterns of behavior in children over time that a professional is not necessarily capable of seeing when sitting with them for 30 minutes. To read this article in its entirety, follow this link, as well as this one for more info!

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