Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

How to Ensure Children's Mental Health

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

How to Ensure Children's Mental Health

Article excerpt

As a pediatric surgeon, I have spent my career giving children a chance to become healthy adults. When children are struck by serious medical conditions, their loved ones and doctors wrestle to understand what happened and how we can make it better. We use every advantage -- research, technology, our understanding of the human body -- to help children heal and secure a chance to live out their full potential.

Today, a staggering number of families struggle with a spectrum of conditions that affect the minds and brains of children and, if untreated, limit their ability to live happy, healthy lives. As a father, and as someone who has dedicated his life to children, I find it devastating to watch families reach out for help for a child's mental health issue when we have so few answers -- and resources -- to offer them.

We must change our thinking and our approach to ensuring mental health for children. I propose beginning with the following steps:

1. Accept that mental health is a children's health issue. One in five children in the United States suffers a medical condition that affects their mental health. These encompass a wide range of diagnoses, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and developmental disorders. Of the 15 million children affected by such conditions, only 20 percent ever receive treatment. This is especially sobering when we consider that by age 14, half of all lifetime diagnoses of mental illness will begin manifesting, and that 75 percent will show up by age 24.

2. Start screening early. As with obesity and diabetes, pediatricians know that, by detecting disease in childhood and intervening early, we can have a tremendous effect on the health of that person in adulthood. By contrast, there is an average delay of eight to 10 years between the onset of symptoms and treatment for children with mental health issues. …

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