May is Mental Health Month and nearly one in five, almost 20 percent, of Ohioans experience some type of mental illness or emotional disturbance each year. The majority of these Ohioans try to deal with the problem on their own with limited success.
The majority of these people receive no services even though recovery rates for the most common mental illnesses have nearly the same successful rate of recovery as medical conditions such as, asthma, and heart disease.
For those that don’t receive services we find that they can end up in the criminal justice system, homeless, or if the mental health issues get worse in a psychiatric inpatient unit.
What We Can Do
One way to decrease these numbers is by focusing on children and taking care of a little problem before it becomes a big problem. Like adults, children and adolescents can have mental health disorders that interfere with the way they think, feel, and act. Mental health problems affect one in every five young people at any given time. When these problems are untreated, mental health disorders can lead to school failure, family conflicts, drug abuse, violence, and even suicide. Untreated mental health disorders can be very costly to families, and the community.
Mental health disorders in children and adolescents are caused mostly by biology and environment. Examples of biological causes are genetics, chemical imbalances in the body, or damage to the central nervous system, such as a head injury. Many environmental factors also put young people at risk for developing mental health disorders. Examples include:
-Exposure to environmental toxins, such as high levels of lead;
-Exposure to violence, such as witnessing or being the victim of physical or sexual abuse, drive-by shootings, muggings, or other disasters;
-Stress related to chronic poverty, discrimination, or other serious hardships; and
-The loss of important people through death, divorce, or broken relationships.
As a community we need to focus on the fact that every child’s mental health is important and that their mental health problems can be recognized and treated. We do this by recognizing that caring families and communities working together can provide the support needed to make a difference in a child’s life. Providers and consumers working together can develop effective solutions.
Our community has already started to develop effective ways to serve children. Students in our area high schools are presented Signs of Suicide curriculum by local mental health professionals and then given a screening to identify adolescents at risk for depression and suicide. Counselors are made available to any identified students and their families.
Champaign County Family and Children First and the Drug Free Youth Coalition were awarded a federal Drug Free Communities grant that have led to reductions in youth access to alcohol, improved alcohol retailer compliance rates by 45 percent, reduced 30 day past use of alcohol amongst 8th grade students by 33 percent, and reduced 30 day past use of tobacco amongst 8th grade students by 25 percent. Additionally, the coalition has increased prevention efforts through partnerships with local school districts to implement evidence-based Botvin LifeSkills programming at middle school grade levels. In two years, a 14 percent increase was found in drug resistance skills amongst 8th grade students. Expansion of this programming to elementary and high school is planned – as evidence suggests that multiple doses of prevention are needed throughout one’s life to prevent youth from using substances.
For those children, teens, and their families who are interested in meeting with a therapist who specializes in working with children and their families both Consolidated Care and Wellspring have available a variety of mental health programs to meet the needs of the community.
The message that needs to get out is that: treatment works and people recover. Our community is committed to providing the appropriate treatment to our children. By supporting the mental health levy, the community is making a commitment to the children and the future.
David Higgins is executive director of the Logan/Champaign Mental Health, Drug, and Alcohol Services Board, which funds and monitors mental health and chemical dependency services provided to county residents. The board can be reached at 937-465-1045.