Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mentally Ill Children

This article is correct with the concept that a lot of mental illness is present in younger school-age children. This illness goes un-diagnosed sometimes with these young children. I have worked, as an educator, with 5th grade students who were already taking Lithium. It is frightening to think of what will happen to their brain cells and body chemistry if they continue to take anti-psychotic drugs for life. That could be seventy years of serious drugs. I do recognize that some drugs are the only thing to help maintain a severe mental illness, but I am encouraged by the research coming out about chemicals and dyes found in the food that a lot of children are eating. These chemicals and dyes have been found to increase and sometimes create ADD and ADHD in children. This is research that should be taken seriously and watched closely for excellent results.

Parents, advocates push for better mental health care for kids

By Steve Landwehr
Staff writer

SALEM — Sally Padden, chief justice for the Essex County Juvenile Court, had a somber message for parents and advocates gathered in Salem yesterday morning to push for better mental health care for children.

Sooner or later, she said, we pay the price for not treating children.

"I guarantee that if you walk into Middleton Jail or Cedar Junction, 90 percent of the inmates had problems when they were 5 years old that weren't treated," Padden said.

Padden was one of about 60 child advocates packed into a room at Children's Friend and Family Services to promote greater awareness and better treatment of kids with mental health issues. They were also lobbying legislators for passage of a bill, currently in the Senate Ways and Means Committee, that would ensure early screening, prevent overly long stays in psychiatric hospitals, improve coordination of services and increase coverage for children with mental illness.

Lisa Lambert, executive director of the Parent/Professional Advocacy League, offered a compelling statistic.

"We have the No. 9 expulsion rate (from kindergarten) in the country," Lambert said. "Only eight states expel more than we do."

Many of those expulsions are the result of undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, Lambert said.

Marblehead's Betsey Cassidy has three sons, all enrolled in Marblehead public schools and all diagnosed with mental health issues. Her oldest, Brian, is 16. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 7.

She and her son's psychiatrist eventually found a combination of medications that kept Brian fairly stable, but Cassidy had problems convincing his teachers he had the disorder. They also tried to get her to take Brian off his medications and give him Ritalin instead.

Ritalin helped Brian learn better, Cassidy said, but had nasty side effects, including severe tics.

Brian's care became a battle when he was in seventh grade. Cassidy said he was going through a particularly difficult time, and the psychiatrist, who was out of town and unable to consult with school officials, told her to get Brian into a hospital immediately.

She called the hospital and the school nurse, but when she arrived at school, the nurse told her she had called the hospital and told them Brian didn't need to be hospitalized.

"She treated me really badly," Cassidy said. "That woman thought she knew more about my son than I did."

Lack of understanding

Several parents spoke to the frustrations of dealing with a health care system they said is failing them. Lack of resources has created what is called the "stuck kid" syndrome.

Parents take their child to the emergency room, where treatment in a psychiatric hospital is recommended — but there are no beds available, anywhere. And if more home-based mental health services were available, advocates said, kids might not get "stuck" in a restrictive hospital environment to begin with.

Rodel Treggiari of Salem said she and her husband ended up spending $1,600 a month for 18 months — money they could ill afford — to get their daughter the treatment she needed.

Cassidy said she doesn't think school officials act inappropriately intentionally. She said she thinks they just don't understand mental health problems in children and don't recognize that the diseases don't come with age limitations.

Schools are geared toward learning and are good when dealing with learning disabilities, less so with mental health problems, she said.

The bill that advocates are backing is estimated to cost about $4.7 million. It's not a large sum as state budget items go, but state Rep. Steve Walsh, D-Lynn, cautioned that in this budget crisis, every program is fighting over a limited supply of money.

Betsey Cassidy continues to have good days and bad ones, but her determination to support her sons is paying at least one dividend

"When he was in the seventh grade in school he was told he'd never be anything more than he was right then. He's going to graduate (high school), and I think he's going to go to college," she said proudly.

Children's mental health statistics

r More than 140,000 young people in Massachusetts need mental health services. More than 100,000 do not receive them.

r The number of children with mental health needs is greater than the number with leukemia, diabetes and HIV/AIDS combined.

r Of youths involved in state and local juvenile justice systems, 70 percent suffer from mental disorders.

r Nearly 50 percent of the students with a mental disorder drop out of school.

r Ninety percent of children who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable disorder. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people 10 to 24.

Source: Children's Mental Health Campaign

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