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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: Another important issue with violent or aggressive teens is the failure of the most frequently used psychotropic medications in reducing outbursts. More benign, more effective medications are working for some kids and are rarely considered as they are not in the cross hairs of big pharma. We recently interviewed Dr Ankerman author of Hope For The Violently aggressive child and discussed the importance of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and violence in teens. Looking for the organic basis of behaviors is key as well. For girls, endocrine issues can wreak havoc on mood, anxiety and rages. Educating parents early, unravelling the possible biological, organic and environmental causes and then applying the right type of therapy can make a huge difference. For example, talk therapy for adults going through a crisis may be very helpful but for kids with severe mental illnesses, discussing their behaviors without giving them tools to control them can cause even more anxiety and frustration which is why for some of these kids cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful.

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