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Chrisa Hickey

Advocate, National Alliance on Mental Illness

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Half of teens with mental illness don't get treatment. It gets worse at age 18. How do we identify & treat teens with mental Illness?

As part of the response to the tragedy in Newtown and the Vice President's task force that resulted, President Obama has proposed to spend $235 million on mental health screenings for children in schools. This plan has been met with some skepticism as to its potential effectiveness and potential bias against children of lower incomes or of color.

But NAMI and NIMH statistics have shown that more than 50% of adults with serious mental illness - Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia - showed their first symptoms before the age of 14, and that teens and young adults (>25) have an average of six YEARS between onset of first symptoms and first treatment.

Due to HIPAA laws, parents of children over age 18 cannot get mental health treatment for their adult children without the child's consent. But if the adult child is manic or psychotic, it's highly unlikely consent will be given.

So how do we do a better job of identifying children with mental illness and providing them treatment before they become legal adults?

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  • Jan 3 2014: I believe the best way of identifying children with mental illness and providing them treatment before they become legal adults is to stomp the stigma of mental illness. Until we get everyone to understand that children with mental illness are no less "ill" than a child with a serious physical illness, we will not be able to make the strides needed. Unfortunately, embarrassment and shame keep parents from seeking the help their children need which quickly escalates due to the additional pressures of school and later social interactions with peers. When we hear the words "mental illness" we need to take out the "mental" and remember "illness".

    The state of health care for children with mental illness in this country is a national disgrace. Many state funded programs are barbaric and those that offer quality care are completely unaffordable to the average family. Improving health care benefits to best assist families with children and teens suffering with severe mental illness needing residential care is sorely needed. Educating parents on their rights for cooperation and assistance from school districts to help pay not only for residential but private therapy is key as well.

    Teaching children with mental illness to self advocate and collaborate in their care and problem solve is essentially the only way to set the tone for their futures. Understanding that if they could, they would, and that no child wants to fail at school or at home is the first step in understanding defiant or mentally ill kids. It is important for these fragile kids to trust their caregivers. Instead of pushing these kids further into the abyss we need to extend our hands to pull them out as well as their beleaguered parents.

    Getting an adult teen to sign a health care proxy or legal document giving parents permission to make health care decisions should they be impaired is the best 18th birthday gift a parent can give

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