Battling Childhood Mental Illness in Colorado

hospitalcoloradoThirteen percent of children, as young as age six, have diagnosable mental illness. About half of adults with mental illness had problems starting at a young age, and three-quarters of adults with mental illness experienced symptoms by age 22. The recent story of Joshua Plunkett in the The Denver Post, who has struggled with mental illness since the age of three, called attention to the growing need for early treatment for children dealing with mental illness.

Joshua’s story was likely shared in light of the estimated 89,000 children and teens in Colorado dealing with serious emotional disturbances, some of them severe enough that they cannot live with their families.

The emergency room at Children’s Hospital Colorado reported 3,100 kids experiencing a mental health crisis, which has contributed to the 10 to 30 percent average increase each year. The hospital is on track to see more than 3,800 children in mental health crisis at the emergency department this year—many of which are described as suicidal or aggressive and threatening to hurt someone else.

“We are really in a behavioral health crisis in our state,” said Dr. Douglas Novins, chair of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Children’s. “The number of children who are coming here in behavioral health crisis has really increased enormously.”

Recent studies have demonstrated that early treatment is key to improving mental illness; however, kids younger than six are the least likely to receive mental health care if they need it.

Because a huge portion of brain development happens in the first three years of life, treatment at that time can have a lifelong impact, Dr. Shannon Bekman, program manager for the infant mental health program at the Mental Health Center of Denver, said.

The Mental Health Center of Denver provides therapists in several Denver schools and public health clinics to allow kids to get psychiatric care at the same place they see pediatricians. More than 1,500 Denver students received 12,000 mental health therapy sessions last year.

Denver Public Schools has also implemented plans to help combat this growing issue: Every school in the district has either a psychologist, social worker or both, and mental health staff has increased 30 percent in five years.

“If we don’t look at it through the mental health lens, it may be seen as a discipline problem,” Eldridge Greer, director of social emotional learning for Denver schools, said. “If we don’t address mental health, we are not going to get the results we want in academics.”

Read the full story on The Denver Post for more details.

Image from Children’s Hospital Colorado website

Updated: December 01 2014