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It's Children's Mental Health Awareness Week - how aware are you?

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  May 7, 2012 01:48 PM

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This first week in May is National Children's Mental Health Awareness Week -- which is a great idea because for children, as for all of us, good mental health is just as important as good physical health. So -- how aware are you?

Did you know that ...

Mental illness is very common in children. One in five children suffers from some sort of mental health problem. They range from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic disorders to things that we tend to associate more with adults, like anxiety and depression and schizophrenia.

The signs of mental health problems may be different in kids. When we think of mental illness, we tend to think of people acting either really sad or really strange. But that's not how mental illness looks most of the time -- especially in kids. In kids, the first signs may be things like changes in appetite, acting worried or less interested in activities, trouble sleeping, dropping grades, or taking unnecessary risks. Some of these behaviors could be easy to dismiss as "a phase" or "being a teenager," and parents might not take it seriously or seek help. Which is too bad, because ...

Intervening early helps. It's true for physical problems, and it's true for mental illness as well. That's why it's always better to call your doctor if your child has any kind of behavior change that worries you and lasts more than a few days. Parents often worry about the stigma of mental health problems, or just don't want to believe that it's happening to their child. But very often we can turn things around more quickly and easily if we catch them early, because ...

Treatment makes a difference. We've come a long way when it comes to mental health. Not only do we understand more about what causes it, we understand more about how to treat it. Through counseling and other behavioral therapies, family support and sometimes medication, we can often make life much better for the child and family. The only problem is ...

Children often don't get the care they need. It's not just because their families are hesitant to take them -- there are other barriers too. One is that there aren't enough mental health providers. The US only has about a fifth of the child psychiatrist it needs, so waiting lists to see them and other kinds of providers can be very long. And many insurance companies don't have good coverage for mental health services -- in the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health, nearly a third of families with mental health needs reported that their insurance was inadequate to meet their child's needs. Which is why ...

We need your help. We need to fix the broken system, and get better mental health care for our children. Check out the Children's Mental Health Campaign to find out more about what we are doing here in Massachusetts -- and how you can help.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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