Chances are good that you know a child or teen with a mental illness. Nearly twenty percent of youth age thirteen to eighteen experience severe mental disorders in any given year, and for younger children, the estimate is thirteen percent. That means in an elementary or middle school of three hundred, roughly forty children are experiencing mental illness. And in a high school of three thousand, six hundred students need help.
About half of all chronic mental illness begins by age fourteen. Despite the availability of effective treatment, there are often long delays in getting these young people the help they need. For those between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death.
We must do better. Parents, teachers, caregivers, and physicians must learn the signs of childhood mental illness and take swift action. Often, specialized educational programs can provide the comprehensive, wrap around services and supports these children need, and a patient learning environment in which they can begin to learn the skills they need to live with mental illness.
Learning more and taking action can literally save lives.
Steven Morse, Ed.D.
The writer is the Superintendent of Garfield Park Academy, a state-approved private non-profit school in Willingboro serving roughly 160 students with learning, social and emotional challenges. Students are placed at the school by local school districts, and attend at no cost to parents. For more information, go to http://garfieldparkacademy.org/ or call 609-877-4111.