Mental health of children in Ohio

Children’s mental health is important. According to the American Psychological Association (“http://www.apa.org”>www.apa.org), “Mental health – an essential part of children’s overall health – has a complex interactive relationship with their physical health and their ability to succeed in school, at work and in society. Both physical and mental health affect how we think, feel and act on the inside and outside.”

Recognizing and dealing with children’s mental health problems is critical. According to Mental Health America (www.mentalhealthamerica.net.)

“Children’s mental health problems are real, common and treatable. Although one in five children has a diagnosable mental health problem, nearly two-thirds of them get little or no help. Untreated mental health problems can disrupt children’s functioning at home, school and in the community. Without treatment, children with mental health issues are at increased risk of school failure, contact with the criminal justice system, dependence on social services, and even suicide.”

When parents, family, teachers, or other caregivers observe a child’s emotional or behavioral problem, collaboration may help parents determine how best to deal with it. Mental Health America lists signs that professional help may be necessary:

Decline in school performance

Poor grades despite a strong effort

Constant worry or anxiety

Repeated refusal to go to school or take part in normal activities

Hyperactivity or fidgeting

Persistent nightmares

Persistent disobedience or aggression

Frequent temper tantrums

Depression, sadness, or irritability

Mental Health America advises, “Early identification, diagnosis and treatment can help children reach their full potential. If you suspect a problem or have questions, talk with your child’s pediatrician or contact a mental health professional.”

Reasons why children may not get help can vary widely, depending on the individual and family situation and attitudes toward the problem. It can be tempting to brush things off as “just a phase” or tell the child to “snap out of it.” Responding in this way may result in a missed opportunity to deal with a minor issue that could become a bigger problem later.

Too often, society treats a family with a physical illness differently from a family with a mental illness. The family with a mental illness may not receive support from the community, such as meals and offers to “call at any time.” Dr. David A. Hanscom, Md., in an interview by Dr. Joseph M. Mercola, DO (www.Mercola.com), noted the close connection between physical and mental pain. One takeaway from the interview is that “anxiety, or mental pain, and physical pain are processed in the same part of the brain. They’re essentially the same thing.” Another is that “since pain pathways and anger pathways are linked, intertwined pathways, whenever your anger pathways are fired up, your pain pathways are going to be fired up and vice versa.” In both adults and children physical and mental health are linked and should be viewed with the same concern and sympathy.

To be fair, community members may not know there is a problem, or perhaps they may wish to maintain the family’s privacy. Whatever the dynamics involved, too many families are blocked by themselves and their reactions to the issue and do not receive the help they want for their concerns.

School administrators need to be active in educating teachers and coaches in the preventive role they can play. In addressing the psychological issues, prevention may be the ideal service to offer a child and his or her family. Prevention would be evidenced by children experiencing accepting relationships at home and at school and being taught abilities to manage emotions as events occur in the child’s day-to-day life. Adults teaching that it is our thoughts that drive our emotions, which in turn drive our behaviors, would help parents and children to redirect their thoughts and emotions toward healthier behaviors. These skills become more important as the child approaches the transition years from ages 14 to 25. It is during these years that many teens start to access gateway drugs such as tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol that lead to addiction to other substances that consume much of the individual’s time and energy to obtain.

The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services provides help in this area. They provide assistance in accessing local mental health professionals and accessing quality mental health services for Ohioans at all levels of need and stages of life. Locally, mental health services can be accessed by contacting the Washington County Mental Health Crisis Hotline (740-373-8240), L&P Services, Inc. (740-376-0930), and Hopewell Health Centers (740-423-8095).

Jack Van Kuiken is a member of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board. Behavioral Health Matters appears on the Opinion page on the last Saturday of the month.