May is mental health awareness month and experts say that 1 in 5 kids have an emotional or behavioral illness. And the majority of them don’t have access to the treatment that they need.
In Bexar County, the number of children affected by emotional or behavioral illness is around 80,000. Those illnesses can range from ADHD and anxiety to more severe mental health problems.
Treating those illnesses is key because without treatment, those illnesses will affect them into adulthood.
That’s where the Child Guidance Clarity Center comes in. Tucked away in San Antonio’s Medical Center, the Children’s Mental Health Hospital sees thousands of children each year.
“Kids that don’t get treated when they are kids have a higher incidence of substance abuse from self-medicating, so alcohol and drug abuse,” spokeswoman Michele Brown said. “They drop out of school in larger numbers, they become incarcerated in larger numbers, and suicide is the second-leading killer of our kids.”
Brown added that children get treatments specific to their needs at the center, from group therapy to family therapy and play therapy. But Brown admits that it can be difficult to get kids there in the first place.
“In our society, we have a tendency to judge, and parents are afraid that if their child has behavioral issues or a mental illness that it’s going to reflect on their parenting,” said Brown, who added that parents have signs to look out for. “Does your child get very very angry very quickly or have no emotional reaction at all? Do they have a lot of friends and all the sudden no friends, or no friends at all and have problems making friends? Do they sleep entirely too much or not at all? Do they eat entirely too much or don't eat at all?”
Brown also said that the stigma of mental health issues, along with access to treatment and costs, are just some of the reasons why 60 percent of kids who need treatment never see a mental health professional, and why raising awareness is so important.
“This is no child psychiatry on call at any other hospital in Bexar County. We are able to do that,” Brown noted. “At Clarity, we have the largest concentration of psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed professional counselors specializing with children in the region.”
The center’s “One in Five Minds” campaign does that, in the form of community involvement, with fun challenges like “Maynicures” for mental health, encouraging people to paint each fingernail a different color, representing the one in five children with emotional or behavioral illness.
“The reality is diabetes is nothing different than a diabetic needing insulin. We need to start having those conversations because physical health and mental health need to be integrated. Our brains are connected to our bodies. We need to be able to have that conversation and make sure that we're raising a well child who is going to become a resilient adult,” said Brown who noted that if parents start to see warning signs, they should talk to their pediatrician. “You don't realize how difficult it can be to get care until you actually need help, which is why we also suggest starting with your pediatrician because chances are you can get an appointment quickly with your pediatrician and get some of those concerns discussed and go from there.”