SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – Health Care and Rehabilitation Services offers a comprehensive system of care for youth experiencing emotional, behavioral, or substance use difficulties. Founded in 1967, the nonprofit agency also offers education and support for youth clients’ family members. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we take a look back at the history of children’s mental health as well as provide helpful information to support the mental health of children and youth.
It wasn’t too long ago that anyone who suffered with a mental health diagnosis was viewed as weak or as somehow responsible for their illness. Mothers were also often viewed as responsible for “creating” the illness of Schizophrenia in their child through poor parenting. Today, we have a more enlightened view of the origins of mental illness, and although we still have a long way to go with regard to both prevention and treatment, we have made major strides in understanding the field of mental health.
Research has shown the significant impact that childhood trauma has on an individual’s likelihood of developing mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Known as Adverse Childhood Experiences, when a child experiences physical abuse, neglect, or extreme amounts of stress, not only will they likely exhibit problematic behaviors as a child, but they will be prone to experiencing many other health issues in adulthood. Children with ACEs have a much higher risk of developing 7 out of the 10 leading causes of death. However, we can help children to build resilience, in order to help mitigate some of these risk factors.
It’s important that we begin to think and plan how to help these children succeed. We must collectively learn to identify the signs of mental health issues in children. We must intervene early to help ensure the best outcomes. We must stop blaming children and adolescents for their “acting out” behaviors and, while still holding them accountable, work to create new experiences, to teach them new skills of problem solving and self-regulation. These kinds of intervention help to both repair damage and create new pathways in the brain, which allow a child to function in healthier, developmentally appropriate, and normative ways. This, in turn, provides children with a greater sense of belonging, an increased sense of self, and an improved ability to succeed socially and academically.
During this Mental Health Awareness Month, it behooves us all to look at those around us, to bring a deeper and more compassionate view of mental illness, and to continue to strive to better understand, support, empower, and treat those who are affected.
For families dealing with any of these issues in Windsor or Windham counties, help can be found by calling HCRS at the following toll-free numbers: Brattleboro area, 855-220-9428; Springfield area, 855-220-9429; or Hartford area, 855-220-9430.
Written by Jennifer A. Smith, HCRS’ Children, Youth & Families division director.