OPINION: Treat mental health as early as possibleMental health interventions, especially those that focus on strengthening positive relationships, can often make a critical difference in promoting children’s resilience and early school success.
By: Jennifer Kline , Guest columnist
Somewhat less prominent in public discussions in the aftermath of the horrible shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School is conversation about the mental health aspects of the tragedy.
Was the 20-year-old shooter, Adam Lanza, struggling with mental illness? We don’t know. We may never know.
But the facts that he first killed his mother, then 20 children and six adults at the school, suggest he was a deeply troubled young man.
Children, even those many years younger than Lanza, can have mental, emotional and behavioral problems that are real and painful.
Research by the National Institute of Mental Health shows that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. At least one in 20 — or as many as 3 million young people — may have an emotional disturbance.
These disorders are stressful for the child as well as the family, school and community. Mental health interventions, especially those that focus on strengthening positive relationships, can often make a critical difference in promoting children’s resilience and early school success.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, early treatment to help children and their parents manage difficulties early in life can help prevent development of disorders.
Once mental illness develops, it becomes part of a child’s behavior and more difficult to treat. That prompted South Dakota Voices for Children to create a website for parents, educators and others (www.sdkidsmentalhealth.org) as a first step in seeking that help.
It provides a clearer understanding of children’s mental health, information about recognizing problems that may arise and how to find needed services in South Dakota.
The website also includes a list of helpful books, along with a statewide directory that can be searched by city, clinician’s name or mental health clinic.
It also lists psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed mental health counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, psychiatric nurse practitioners and master’s trained social workers.
That’s a good first step. But greater attention needs to focus on the mental wellness of the children and youth of our state. South Dakota Voices for Children pledges to be a leader in addressing that issue.
Working together, caring families and communities can help children and adolescents in South Dakota get the help they need.
Jennifer Kline is the executive director of South Dakota Voices for Children, which is based in Sioux Falls.