Mental Illness: Its
Huge Impact on our Children
Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board
of Psychiatry and Neurology
Washington University research
showed that mental illness is now the leading reason for hospitalization
of people ages 5 to 19.
Over the past decade, the
most dramatic growth in hospitalizations has
occurred among the population of younger school-aged children.
They suffer mostly from depression and disruptive behavioral problems,
such as oppositional defiance and conduct disorder.
According to mental health experts, the families of these children have
inadequate health insurance, which does not provide coverage for the
intensive counseling and therapy that is often needed by these troubled
youths. As a last resort, many of these children are taken to
"This is a call for us to respond to
children's unmet mental health needs," said Sheri Hill, a developmental
psychologist who helped direct the University of Washington's annual
State of Washington's Kids research effort. "We can no longer ignore
||Not treating mental illnesses in
children until they reach the crisis stage has
ramifications far beyond the emergency room. According to Susan
Maney, clinical director of the Children's Home Society Cobb Center,
which provides mental health treatment for children, neglecting mental
illness in young people negatively affects schools, neighborhoods, and
even leads to the break-up of families.
In 1999, a total of 2,800 children in the
state of Washington were hospitalized with mental health concerns.
Depressive disorders account for 46 % of the mental illnesses seen in
children ages 5 to 14, and an astounding 67 % in the teen population
ages 15 to 19; making depression by far the most prevalent mental
illness affecting young
|people in the state of Washington.
Depression manifests itself differently in children than it does in
Maney said. She further added that children are likely to become
withdrawn, have difficulty relating to their playmates or parents, do
poorly in school, or have trouble getting out of bed.
Mike Fitzpatrick, the Northwest regional
director of the Children's Home Society, said that even
families who currently have health coverage are allowed only a limited
amount of counseling. Due to a shortage of child psychologists and
a lack of other mental health services, families often face long lapses
of time between therapy sessions and see few results.
According to Fitzpatrick, it's often not until
after children act out in some
violent or dramatic way - hurting a sibling, injuring a
schoolmate, or harming themselves - that they are taken to the hospital
to receive the intensive treatment that they require. Furthermore, he
stated that, "As mental health resources in our local system have gotten
more scarce, children have had to have a pretty severe diagnosis to get
any type of service."
As a society, we have our priorities
disordered. Our present educational system
is in a state of crisis. The root cause of this crisis is not fiscal,
but rather, ideological. Academic subjects and test scores are being
given precedence over the mental health of the student, his worth as a
human being, and his ability to earn a living upon graduation.
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