Focusing on children's mental health issues in North Adams

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NORTH ADAMS — Estimates show that one in 10 child or adolescent experiences mental illness in any given year. That adds up to two or three children in every classroom that experiences mental health challenges.

Children's Mental Health Week, May 1-7, is being marked by the Northern Berkshire Systems of Care Committee and the city of North Adams by promoting awareness of the extensive nature of the problem, and the complexities victims and their families face.

"There are kids carrying around these loads — depression or anxiety — things that run rampant in some of these neighborhoods," said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, noting awareness is essential to minimizing the stigma attached to mental illness.

"I think it's really important and appropriate that we pay attention. If your kid is sick, he or she needs treatment. There should be no distinction between a broken arm and an unsettled mind, between a physical ailment and a mental ailment."

There will be a rally to promote awareness of children's mental health issues at 4 p.m. Wednesday on the front lawn of North Adams City Hall.

Left untreated, the consequences of mental illness in the young can be dire.

Roughly 50 percent of students with mental illness 14 or older drop out of high school. About 70 percent of youngsters involved in the state or local juvenile justice system suffer from mental health disorder of some kind. And suicide is the third leading cause of death in people from 10 to 24 years old — but 90 percent of those who die by suicide suffer from diagnosable and treatable mental illness.

Amy Herman, a representative of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, said making parents aware of the issue and the options is essential to reducing the burden of mental illness in the young. And schools are an essential part of that formula.

Carrie Crews of the Brien Center, which offers mental health and substance abuse services, notes that many children don't yet have the skills to communicate what they're feeling, so adults in their lives have to look to children's actions to see a problem.

"Children don't have the language to express that they're struggling inside," she said. "Anxiety and depression come out in different ways."

More communication between parents and teachers is helpful, she said, in noting erratic behavior and potential issues. Once a parent makes a call to find out where their child can be evaluated and treated for a specific mental malady, the road to recovery has already begun. Pediatricians are a good place to start.

And more awareness leads to more referrals and better outcomes.

"We need to make more parents aware of the support that is available to their families," Crews said. "There are so many different ways to help a child feel better, and when you help a kid feel better, it helps the entire family."


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