Issues around mental health seem to be making news headlines on a routine basis. Stories vary from acts of violence to lack of services for individuals suffering from mental health conditions. Whatever the storyline, the reality is that mental health is often misunderstood and mischaracterized. For example, the majority of violent crimes and homicides are not committed by people with mental health problems. Statistics show that only 3% to 5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals with a serious mental health disorder and that individuals suffering from a mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime.
It is critically important that mental health conditions be taken seriously–especially when the person suffering is a child who struggles to advocate for his/her needs. Statistics show that 20% of youth aged 13-18 experience a severe mental health disorder at some point. However, it can be difficult to recognize the signs of a mental health condition and there is no one test that will diagnose an illness. Each mental health condition has its own symptoms, and warning signs including concerns such as: excessive worry or fear; sudden changes in school performance; problems concentrating; extreme mood changes; avoiding friends or social activities; changes in eating or sleep habits; or thoughts of suicide.
Thinking that someone you love might be suffering from mental health issues can be scary, but it is important to be informed and access accurate information about mental health. A good starting point is to contact your child’s school counselor or school nurse. Another resource is the Area Education Agency staff that serve your child’s school. Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267) is committed to supporting the mental health needs of students and offers training for teachers that focuses on understanding mental health issues and providing interventions to support your child. In addition, AEA 267 has staff members with expertise in mental health who are available to support educational teams and students. These individuals can be accessed by contacting your child’s principal. Finally, there are many excellent online resources that provide information about mental health including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the U.S. Heath and Human Services.
Understanding mental health is a critical first step to seeking treatment and reduce the stigmas around mental illness. Reach out today!
Dr. Karen Aldrich is an administrator with Area Education Agency 267 which serves over 62,000 students in public and non-public school districts representing 18 counties in north central, central and eastern Iowa.