Children’s Mental Health Disorders a ‘True Public Health Crisis’

It’s May 10, 2019 a single week in which we have witnessed two fatal school shootings, one in a classroom in the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and one at STEM School Highlands Ranch, a K-12 outside Denver, Colorado, only minutes from Columbine High School.

Events that were once unthinkable have become a regular part of our lives and have millions of people in this country, and not only teachers and parents, asking why?

The answers are manifold and complicated and we don’t here intend to try to tie them together. The mental health of shooters of children is certainly not the only issue. But these horrific school shootings do strongly suggest (and no doubt help engender) a mental health crisis among children, and act as a catalyst of mental health issues among those charged with helping children into society.

Students at STEM school in Colorado including first and second graders moved quickly into lockdown mode, the disaster drill they have been practicing for months. Parents, teachers, emergency medical personnel treating wounded students, dispatching emergency vehicles, piloting medevac helicopters will live with this all their lives.

But these events, nearly unbearable to watch, much less experience, grow out of an everyday phenomenon of increasing behavioral health issues and growing mental illness among children and adolescents.

According to the nonprofit organization, over 17 million children today have had a psychiatric disorder, which is more than the number of children with cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. Of all reported psychiatric illness, 75% occurs before age 24.

As a ChildMind puts it, this is a true public health crisis. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the most seriously ill and broken minds among youth carry out the violent actions we are seeing.

At Strive, we are committed with all our hearts to working with our communities to understand this crisis, and make treatment available, treatment which can be eminently successful.

The key, indeed, is community—starting with youth themselves, who can emerge as activists with great energy, like the students at Parkland, Florida, even as they were grieving. Parents, teachers, churches, can work to call attention, and pay attention to the warning flags of mental illness among children and adolescents.

Indeed, it is critical for parents and schools especially to know the warning kinds of mental illness, and report them when appropriate.

As Strive clinicians at our Paramus New Jersey facility wrote in this space last month, it’s important to keep in mind that “…young people express anxiety and depression differently than adults. While adults may become saddened or suppressed, young people are likely to become irritable, or transfer emotional pain to their bodies, as chronic pain, or headaches, or even stomach aches. Adolescents can become resistant and antagonistic as any parent knows.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, it is critical to know these warning signs of possible behavioral issues in youth:

* Mood changes. Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school.

* Intense feelings. Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.

* Behavior changes. These include drastic changes in behavior or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behavior. Fighting frequently, using weapons and expressing a desire to badly hurt others also are warning signs.

* Difficulty concentrating. Look for signs of trouble focusing or sitting still, both of which might lead to poor performance in school.

* Unexplained weight loss. A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.

* Physical symptoms. Compared with adults, children with a mental health condition might develop headaches and stomachaches rather than sadness or anxiety.

* Physical harm. Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-injury, also called self-harm. This is the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself. Children with a mental health condition also might develop suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide.

* Substance abuse. Some kids use drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their feelings.

This month, May, is Mental Health Awareness Month. Strive, and our sister company Veteran & First Responder Healthcare, are dedicating our Facebook, blogs and other social media channels to highlight some of the major issues in Mental Health Awareness.