Early detection, intervention key to healthy mental development in children | GUEST OP

We observe National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day on May 8. It is a day to celebrate the positive impact we can have on children's well-being and healthy development.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, about 20 percent of the children in the United States deal with diagnosed mental health conditions. Most common are attention deficit disorder, behavioral or conduct disorders, anxiety and depression. Although these are not as rare as you think – 20 percent of all kids are struggling – the need to continue public awareness exists. Only about half of children aged 8 to 15 are receiving intervention. This is a problem, but there are answers, and most certainly, there is hope.

The facts about mental health conditions can be grim but are very important for you to know. Truancy and school drop-out, addiction, health complications, homelessness and delinquency are problems children with untreated or under-treated mental health conditions can face. However, by identifying a mental health condition early and pursuing interventions, you can greatly reduce the chances of your child facing these other life-altering factors.

It may be hard to digest, but one-half of all chronic mental illness starts by the time a child is 14 years old, and 75 percent of all chronic mental illness have an onset prior to age 24. As parents, this statistic gives us chills – a nightmare that we pray we are spared. Some parents hope or believe erroneously that their children's behavior problems, quirks, or awkwardness, etc., will work themselves out in time.

In some cases this may be true, however, we know that 25 percent of the adult population in the U.S. experiences mental illness in any given year. Looking back, parents report seeing symptoms in childhood that they now recognize as early-onset symptoms. The saddest statistic, I think, is that adults with mental illness, on average, live 25 years less than other Americans largely due to treatable medical conditions.

By impacting your child now with treatment, you can change this trajectory. You can help give her a longer, happier life. Mental illness is not a choice but rather a chronic condition. It is not a result of poor parenting. It is not a personal weakness or flaw. It is, however, a condition that requires intervention if a child is going to have a more positive experience in life.

Mental wellness is essential for a child's healthy development but tends to be overlooked or disregarded due to a lack of awareness and social embarrassment. Luckily, there are many services available in our area to help children get the professional services they need to live a happier, healthier life. You can make a positive and lasting impact on the well-being of your child.

Research has proven that early detection and intervention provide the best outcome for children. Education about the problem, supportive services and therapies are available and contribute to successful management. Family participation in treatment is a key component for success.

Sometimes medication management is also needed for symptom control.

Without intervention, children with mental conditions will continue to have problems in schools, with peers, at home and put themselves at an increased risk for substance abuse and delinquency and perhaps a shortened life span. With intervention, these children make more lasting friendships, do better academically, have a lower dropout rate, can avoid homelessness, steer clear of legal involvement and manage their mental health symptoms better.If you believe that your child may have a potential mental illness, start by talking to your pediatrician, school counselor or a community therapist.

They can help you start the assessment process.

If immediate crisis service intervention is needed, contact the King County's Children's Crisis Outreach Response System at 206-461-3222 or 1-866-4CRISIS.

The sooner you identify and continue to monitor your child's needs, the better the outcome may be. There is help. There is hope. Help your child have the fullest, best life possible.

Gera McGuire is a mother of three and a licensed mental health counselor in private practice in the Maple Valley/Black Diamond/Enumclaw area. She can reached at 360-469-4179 or gera.mcgurie@comcast.net.

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