Men­tal ill­ness in chil­dren, ado­les­cents can be treated

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Me­lanie Dal­las High­land Rivers Health

The re­cent Net­flix se­ries “13 Rea­sons Why” ex­plored the tragic story of a high school-aged young woman who, af­ter suf­fer­ing sex­ual trauma and bul­ly­ing, chose to end her life by sui­cide. Although many praised the show for rais­ing aware­ness of teen sui­cide, oth­ers were crit­i­cal of the se­ries for giv­ing too lit­tle at­ten­tion to the young woman’s men­tal health com­pli­ca­tions or dis­cussing treat­ment and re­cov­ery.

Re­gard­less of whether “13 Rea­sons Why” pro­vided a pub­lic ser­vice or failed to do so, teen sui­cide con­tin­ues to be sub­stan­tial cause for con­cern, es­pe­cially since it is of­ten linked to men­tal ill­ness. The Na­tional Al­liance on Men­tal Ill­ness (NAMI) re­ports that up to 90 per­cent of in­di­vid­u­als who die by sui­cide ex­pe­ri­ence men­tal ill­ness.

This link between men­tal ill­ness and self-harm is par­tic­u­larly concerning be­cause men­tal ill­ness in chil­dren is more com­mon than many peo­ple re­al­ize. Ac­cord­ing to NAMI, one in five chil­dren (20 per­cent) ages 13 to 18 has a men­tal health con­di­tion, with mood disor­ders (e.g., de­pres­sion), be­hav­ior disor­ders and anx­i­ety be­ing the most com­mon. Fur­ther, half of all life­time cases of men­tal ill­ness be­gin by age 14.

Of course, the signs of men­tal ill­ness in chil­dren can some­times be harder to rec­og­nize than a phys­i­cal ill­ness. It may be easy to think a child - or es­pe­cially a teenager - who is moody, acts out or is eas­ily dis­tracted is just be­ing a “nor­mal teenager” or “go­ing through a phase.” But ac­tu­ally he or she may be suf­fer­ing from de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety or at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der.

Un­for­tu­nately, these mis­per­cep­tions of­ten mean par­ents are hes­i­tant to seek men­tal health treat­ment for their chil­dren. NAMI re­ports the av­er­age length of time between the on­set of a child’s men­tal health symp­toms and re­ceiv­ing treat­ment is an as­tound­ing eight to ten years. It’s un­likely any par­ent would let their child suf­fer from a phys­i­cal ill­ness for half of his or her life be­fore seek­ing help and treat­ment.

Of course, not ev­ery young per­son who ex­pe­ri­ences men­tal ill­ness re­sorts to self-harm. But left un­treated, men­tal ill­ness can re­sult in wors­en­ing symp­toms, in­clud­ing er­ratic be­hav­ior, sub­stance abuse, vi­o­lence to­ward oth­ers and the dis­in­te­gra­tion of re­la­tion­ships with fam­ily and friends. Re­search has also found that chil­dren with men­tal health prob­lems get lower grades and miss more school; more than 40 per­cent drop out of school al­to­gether.

But there is also good news about men­tal ill­ness in chil­dren: it is treat­able. In fact, doc­tors and re­searchers un­der­stand more about men­tal ill­ness in chil­dren and ado­les­cents than ever be­fore - how and when it starts, what can cause it, and how it can be treated most ef­fec­tively. In ad­di­tion, many men­tal health providers, in­clud­ing High­land Rivers Health, have doc­tors and ther­a­pists spe­cial­iz­ing in child and ado­les­cent men­tal health - and can tai­lor med­i­ca­tion, ther­apy and sup­port ser­vices to the unique needs of each young per­son.

Men­tal ill­ness is noth­ing to be ashamed of, but some­thing that should be taken se­ri­ously. If you are con­cerned about the men­tal­health of your child or teen, talk to your child’s doc­tor or school coun­selor, or call a lo­cal men­tal health clinic.

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