CG&FS Medical Director Comments on Children and Mental Health - News Article

CG&FS Medical Director Comments on Children and Mental Health

By Karen Talbott & Dr. Steven Jewell

Published in the Akron Beacon Journal

An April 16 column by psychologist John Rosemond (“Fictional ADHD debate continues”) caused us distress on behalf of the youth that we serve at Child Guidance & Family Solutions. In it, the author not only asserts that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) “does not exist.” He also insists that there is no “proof” for the existence of other mental illnesses of youth.

In addition, Rosemond asserts that psychotropic medications used to treat these disorders “do not outperform placebos in clinical trials,” a statement that is scientifically untrue.

Such inaccurate statements are important contributors to the stigma of mental illness in children, and thus should be refuted. They create negative attitudes toward mental disorders, which can result in feelings of guilt and shame in parents of children with mental illness, and thereby reduce the likelihood that they will seek treatment.

Research on mental illness in children has generated statistics that cannot be ignored. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 live with a mental health condition, 11 percent a mood disorder; 10 percent a behavior disorder; and 8 percent an anxiety disorder.

Furthermore, the research shows that 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and 75 percent by age 24.

Despite these compelling numbers just 20 percent of youth with mental illness ever seek treatment during childhood or adolescence. As a result, the other 80 percent suffer silently into adulthood, developing increasing levels of disability that are progressively difficult to reverse.

This accounts, in part, for the fact that (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) the U.S. suicide rate has increased 24 percent during the past 15 years, and suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, and the second leading cause for those ages 15 to 34.

Closer to home, the last time Summit County Public Health and the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board administered the Youth Risk Behavior Survey to students they were surprised to discover that 9.7 percent of county middle school students reported that they had attempted suicide one or more times during the 12 months before the survey.

Child Guidance & Family Solutions is acutely aware of these facts, and thus for over 75 years our mission has been to combat the stigma of mental illness in children and youth, and treat children (and adults) afflicted by those illnesses. The stigma can be addressed in a number of ways, but education to dispel the myths of mental illness is a core strategy.

To that end, the two important messages that we convey to the community every day are that mental illness is real and it is treatable.

Those who question the reality of mental illness are ignoring the robust research showing its genetic and neurobiological underpinnings. Advances in neuroscience have provided clear evidence that mental illness is caused by a disruption in the usual functioning of the brain, the most complex and least understood organ in the human body.

Recent advances in brain scanning technology, though, are demonstrating how brain function is disrupted in mental illness, and how that is reversed with treatment. While we do not yet have a full understanding of how and why these disruptions occur, that does not invalidate the diagnosis of mental illness, nor does it mean that we shouldn’t treat it.

It is also important to know that treatments for mental illness are at least as effective as the treatments for many physical illnesses, such as heart disease. Thanks to advances in research there are more treatment approaches for specific mental illnesses, referred to as “evidence-based treatments” (EBTs), which have proved to be effective in rigorous research studies.

Child Guidance & Family Solutions currently provides EBTs for treatment of a variety of mental illnesses of children and adults (including — but not limited to — anxiety, depression, ADHD and first episode psychosis), as well as EBTs designed to strengthen parent management skills, improve children’s school readiness and reduce behavior problems.

We are constantly seeking to add newly developed EBTs to our array of services as they become available.

Our children’s health is a critical component of our community’s success, as there is no health without mental health. To deny the importance of this foundation of health and happiness for all children and youth in our community is both short-sighted and foolish. Investing in our children is an investment in the well-being of the entire community.

Talbott is the president and chief executive of Child Guidance & Family Solutions. Dr. Jewell is vice president and medical director of the organization.