Has your child altered their normal routine?
Have they changed their eating, sleeping, schooling or playing patterns?
Has their mood changed?
These are possible early signs of childhood mental illness, experts said – signs that parent should be prepared to discuss with the children and their doctors. One in five children suffer from mental illness in the U.S.
Children’s mental health and how it affects families, community and business was discussed Thursday morning at the annual “Is It Good for the Children” seminar sponsored by the Rock Hill Commission on Children and Youth.
More than 50 community leaders gathered at the Cotton Factory to learn more about the issue and hopefully spark more community conversation on mental illnesses.
No conclusions were reached, but participants acknowledged that employers and employees are largely unaware of the problem, what their insurance covers, and the alternatives for treatment.
Lee Gardner, CEO and president of Family Trust Federal Credit Union, asked participants to raise their hands if they knew whether their company’s insurance policy covered mental health and, if so, what the co-pays and deductibles were.
No one raised their hands.
By statistics alone, Gardner said that with 145 employees Family Trust “has got issues we are not addressing and that affect my company, our work culture.
“I’m ashamed to say we haven’t been doing that well” and that could be causing problems, he said. Nationally one in four adults suffer from mental illness, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.
Speaking at Thursday’s seminar were Betsey O’Brien of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in South Carolina, Frank Palermo, a school counselor who has designed short-term therapeutic programs for student from kindergarten to fourth grade in Rock Hill schools, and Dr. Sara Castillo-Thompson, a psychologist with the Fort Mill School District who works with young children.
O’Brien said anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive issues, panic attacks and phobias “trump” other mental illnesses. Attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are prevalent among children.
Mental illness, she said, are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and need to be treated like other “neck-down” diseases.
O’Brien said the conditions are not curable, but are treatable. Early detection is key, she said.
Sylvia Echols, a member of the Is It Good for the Children initiative, said child mental illness is the “no casserole disease.” When you have a medical problem such as a broken leg, people come to your doorstep with a casserole.
But with mental illness there is a stigma. Too often people don’t want to talk about it, O’Brien said.
“We need to change the way we though about health, looking at the whole person.” Echols said.
O’Brien suggested parents need to listen to what their child is saying, remove any suggestion of blame and acknowledge that denial and anger and “normal responses.”
Castillo-Thompson said parents not only need to spend time with their children, but when there are signs things are not going well, “don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t let it fester.” If your instincts tell you something might be wrong, consult your doctor or others who can help you.
There are a number of resources locally. The United Way of York County operates a “211” call center which can help connect people with mental health problems with local resources.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066