Stigma holds back help for children

On a daily basis, children face challenges, stresses and demands that affect their mental wellness in a variety of ways. All children are unique on the way they look on the outside, including hair color, eye color and other physical attributes, yet they are just as unique on the inside in the way they handle life issues that affect their feelings and thoughts. It is important to understand each child’s unique perspectives on life, and assist them along the way.

It is estimated that one in ten children and adolescents in the United States suffers from mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment, yet fewer than one in five of these children receives treatment. Children are in a rapid state of growth during their developmental years, and research indicates early diagnosis and specialized treatment are essential to recovery.

Despite decades of growth in the mental health arena, the number-one reason children are not receiving treatment for their mental wellness is stigma. Stigma (meaning shame, disgrace or dishonor) associated with accepting mental health issues has played a role in society for way too long. This stigma has a direct correlation to children not receiving early intervention assistance when needed, and it continues to be an indication as to the high level of untreated children suffering from behavioral, emotional and cognitive difficulties.

Awareness and education are the keys to unlocking the stigma related to mental health. As a clinician and educator, I have been challenged with adapting creative ways to help others look at mental health from a new, holistic perspective. I believe we all must challenge certain perceptions that many people still hold toward individuals who accept and receive mental health care. Many people easily seek assistance with socially acceptable physical health concerns or abnormalities, such as heart disease, broken bones and respiratory illness, all dealing with certain organs of the human body. Yet, the brain, which is our most complex organ, is the one organ we struggle with accepting help for.

Awareness and understanding of a child’s emotional health are just as important as a child’s physical health. Emotions can be painful. Please be mindful that mental wellness is as important as physical wellness.

Michelle Williams, LCSW, is the executive director of Family Services of Warren County. Make a resolution to improve yourself by enrolling in its new Stress Management or Anger Management classes. Call 723-1330 for more information.