Published: Jun 13, 2007 10:47 AM
Modified: Jun 13, 2007 10:47 AM
With all of the focus on the breakdown of the mental health system in North Carolina, the topic of young childrens mental health is rarely discussed. Yet a childs mental health and emotional development begins during the earliest years, starting from birth. Nationally, one in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness severe enough to disrupt daily life at home, in school or in the community.
Childhood mental health involves a childs ability to experience, regulate and express emotions, form close and secure relationships, and explore the environment. Even very young children can face challenges in developing relationships, dealing with their emotions, and learning within their family and community. Children who grow up in abusive or violent families, or those with parents who have substance abuse or their own mental health problems, may have greater risk for mental health problems.
Its easy to know when a child has a fever. A childs mental health problem may be harder to identify, but parents and teachers can learn to recognize the symptoms. The following list of red flags developed by the American Academy of Pediatricians and American Psychological Association is a quick guide for assessing a childs mental health:
-- Birth to 18 months: Excessive crying that cannot be consoled by caregiver; cant initiate or maintain sleep without assistance; doesnt seek out caregiver when hurt or distressed.
-- Toddler and Preschool Child (Aggression): Aggressive outbursts without reason; extremely active, impulsive and fearless; cruel toward other children or animals.
-- Toddler and Preschool Child (Withdrawal or Depression): Doesnt explore environment or play in organized way; fails to initiate or seek out interaction with others; fails to respond to social initiations from others.
Especially when any of these behaviors are persistent or excessive, parents or caregivers should seek professional advice. Fortunately, there is a wonderful resource in Orange County, the Orange County Preschool Interagency Council, OCPIC. This organization includes local early intervention agencies, schools, and businesses. The members of the council are expert in identifying children with special needs between the ages of birth and 5, and can provide high quality support and services to these children and their families.
If you have questions about childhood mental health, call OCPIC today. Resources are only a call away. Call Yvonne Upshur at the Orange County Health Department at 245-2429 for more information.
The position is funded by the Orange County Partnership for Young Children, with Smart Start funding, and ensures that parents and professionals quickly get connected to local resources. Recognizing and responding to childrens mental health needs offers children the opportunity for a healthy start and later success in school and in life.
Elisabeth Galperin of the Center for Speech, Language & Learning is an OCPIC member. Michele Rivest is executive director of the Orange County Partnership for Young Children. She can be reached at email@example.com or 967-9091.
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