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Children's Mental Health: Awareness Reduces Stigma

PHOTO: Experts say 40 percent of mental-health issues begin in childhood so it's important to ensure children have positive emotional, mental and behavioral health as they grow. Thursday is National Child’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Photo credit: FidlerJan/Morguefile.
PHOTO: Experts say 40 percent of mental-health issues begin in childhood so it's important to ensure children have positive emotional, mental and behavioral health as they grow. Thursday is National Child’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Photo credit: FidlerJan/Morguefile.
May 6, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS - As children grow, experts say, their mental health is just as important as their physical health.

Thursday is National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, an observance that Josh Sprunger, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Indiana, said has helped reduce the stigma surrounding mental-health issues. Whether they are experiencing anxiety, depression or suicidal tendencies, he said, children should feel safe talking about their troubles.

"Whether you are talking about a kid who is maybe starting to hear voices or to think strange things about the world," Sprunger said, "then we can pay attention to those things and give those kids a soft landing spot so we can catch those things early when they're young."

More than 40 percent of serious mental health disorders begin in youth, he said.

In 2011, according to the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction, more than 100,000 children were estimated to have a serious emotional disturbance, which could be a significant impairments in daily living, interpersonal functioning, concentration or adaptation to change.

There are still barriers for children to access mental, emotional, and behavioral health-care services, Sprunger said, adding that sometimes families do not know where to turn for help.

"If they have a school discipline issue, they may not know where to go from there, the school may not know," he said, "and so Children's Mental Health Day can really spur different fields like education, mental health, juvenile justice to all work together to provide a safety net for kids."

Sprunger said parents who suspect something is troubling their child should seek the advice of the child's pediatrician.

"Have good documentation about what's going on in their family, what's going on with their child," he said, "and to really ask questions of providers about, 'Where can I get services right now for for these symptoms that we're experiencing?' "

Sprunger said care also is important in the educational environment. He said school counselors need proper mental-health training and the ability to access resources to provide children a safe space to discuss what's happening in their lives.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN