Aunt Martha’s goes above and beyond to combat mental illness

Toulon –  Many people believe that mental illness is an illness reserved for adults. However, mental illness, even disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, can occur in children and teens as well.  This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued updated guidelines that call for the universal screening for depression for those 12 years and older.

According to Dr. Saisha Gupta, Chair of Psychiatry for Aunt Martha’s Health and Wellness,  “Aunt Martha’s already goes above and beyond the proposed guide lines by screening those 11 years and older with a brief questionnaire and if they answer yes to two questions, they are screened further.”

“An accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of a mental illness such as depression can prevent tremendous suffering for both youth and their loved ones when a correct diagnosis is made early and an effective treatment plan is put into place,” said Dr. Gupta.

“There is no shame in having a mental illness. Depression is a real, medical and treatable illness just like heart disease and cancer, and screening should be mandated just as it is for any other physical illnesses,” she added.

In addition to its clinics, Aunt Martha’s also screens for depression in their Community Wellness and Substance Abuse Programs, Foster Care and extensively at the organization’s Children’s Reception Center (CRC) that provides emergency, temporary placement for children who have been removed from their homes and families due to allegations of neglect, maltreatment and/or abandonment.

Last November, Mental Health America (MHA) released a report that showed a massive gap in mental health access for youth. The report stated that only 22 percent of the most severely depressed youth were receiving adequate treatment for their mental health problems.

Research from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) shows that half of mental illness begins by age 14. However, scientists are now discovering that changes in the body leading to mental illness may start much earlier, before symptoms appear.

Researchers are learning more about the early stages of a wide range of mental illnesses that appear later in life through a greater understanding of when and how fast specific areas of children’s brains develop.  Helping young children and their parents manage difficulties early in life may prevent the development of disorders. Once mental illness develops, it becomes a regular part of the child’s behavior and more difficult to treat. Even though physicians know how to treat many disorders, too many children with mental illnesses are not getting treatment.

Also, while years ago, very little was known about mental illness and depression in adolescents, the symptoms have become more apparent and are different than those of adults.

Not every problem is serious. In fact, everyday stress can change your child’s behavior. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), it is important to be able to tell the difference between typical behavior changes and those associated with more serious problems.

Pay attention to the following:
• Increased irritability or anger
• Decreasing grades; pulling out of social events (social withdrawal), extracurricular activities and hobbies
•  Difficulty concentrating
•  Fatigue or low energy
• Physical complaints like headache/stomachaches that do not have a medical cause or do not respond to treatment
• Feeling hopeless, worthless, having an increased sensitivity to rejection
• Feelings of sadness, crying more
• Cutting (trying to harm themselves)

Just like adults, children are diagnosed after a doctor or mental health specialist observes signs and symptoms. Many primary care physicians will treat the child themselves but some may send them to a specialist who can further diagnose and treat children.

Many children get better with time but others need ongoing professional help.

If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms or others that don’t seem normal, take your child to a doctor.  The earlier a child is diagnosed, the better chance he/she has to reaching recovery.

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