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Mental Illness Affecting Young People – Part 4

October 5-11 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Research indicates a correlation between mental illness and school violence. According to an article in the Huffington Post (10/6/2015) written by Susan Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.A., Public Health Editor, The Huffington Post; and Former U.S. Assistant Surgeon General, posted on Huffington Post entitled, “Writing a National Prescription to Improve the Mental Health of America’s Youth“, there is a given the high prevalence of mental disorders among children and adolescents in the United States.

 What Schools and Parents Can Do

A major recommendation of a report calls on pediatricians to inform families about the federal supplemental security income (SSI) program and help them apply for benefits. Given that half of the SSI benefits in 2013 disbursed to 1.3 million children were related to the presence of mental disorders, primary healthcare providers play an important role in ensuring that young people receive the mental health services they so urgently need. Health care professionals should provide their pediatric patients with mental health screenings at every visit to assess cognitive and emotional functioning, testing a child’s brain vitals just as they would routinely gather information about other vital signs such as temperature, blood pressure, and pulse.

The importance of early identification and intervention for mental illness cannot be emphasized enough. There is an abundance of research pointing to the effectiveness of early treatment of mental illness in reducing developmental delays and the health damaging complications of these disorders during these critical early years of a child’s life. Family members, teachers, school administrators, and health care professionals all have important roles to play in identifying behavioral problems so that children can obtain the help they need in time. Parents would benefit from more education about the signs of behavioral and emotional difficulties in their children and where to seek help. School psychologists can work with parents, teachers and other educators to identify mental health concerns early on to help prevent the damaging impact on the learning and development of their students.

School-based mental health centers and programs can make a significant difference in increasing access to mental health services for students. With staff that includes licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers, some city-wide programs are providing comprehensive services to better identify and assist students experiencing emotional difficulties that affect their academic performance and relationships with their peers and family. Such programs range from on-site mental health services with counseling and crisis interventions to school-wide screenings by community mental health providers. In addition, other services offered through such initiatives include trainings for teachers and parents to identify and refer at-risk students.

If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

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