Consider children's mental illnesses

Our mental health determines how we view the world around us, how we think, feel and react, and it affects the choices we make.

For adults who have had time to live with good mental health, mental illness might be easier to perceive.

But children often don't know when they have a mental illness. It is up to parents, teachers, professionals and other adults to discern that for them.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This week is Children's Mental Health Awareness Week, and Thursday is Children's Mental Health Awareness Day.

Yes, we do need all those designations to heighten awareness of mental illness in our children.

About one fourth of adults nationwide suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder each year. For children, that number is about 20 percent in the United States, with Kentucky reporting about 8 percent.

Mental illness in children and adolescents only rarely manifests itself in the form of the violent school shootings that make the news. Only 5 percent to 9 percent of children ages 9 to 17 suffer serious mental illness.

Most often, the illnesses in children are exhibited as mood swings, eating disorders, attention deficit disorder or bullying. Unfortunately, about 66 percent of our children who have these problems are not getting the help they need. Sometimes parents think we can fix things ourselves.

”They find that ­giving them more chores and spanking them isn't really effective,“ said Kate Overberg, program coordinator for Kentucky Partnership for Families and Children.

”Listen to the youth,“ she said. ”I admit I'm biased, but if parents know how to listen to them, the kids will tell you what is wrong.“

If that doesn't work, find an unbiased third party who can be impartial.

”A lot of the time, kids are not effective in delivering the message, and parents are not listening effectively, and vice versa,“ Overberg said.

If those lines of communication are open, behavior often improves.

That doesn't mean the parent gives into to the whims of the child. There should be consequences for negative behavior, she said.

KPFC is a private, non-profit family advocacy organization based in Frankfort that brings together parents, children and professionals to help families deal with emotional, behavioral and mental health issues. It was established nine years ago.

Once a child's diagnosis is made, KPFC can help parents understand what it means and can help them work with schools to get the educational help the child needs.

Overberg, and others included in a statewide network of volunteers, can help parents with individualized education plans and tell them what to expect. If necessary, a volunteer can accompany the parent to the meeting.

”We have a lot of great resources,“ she said. ”We have a lot of amazing parents who are willing to help.“

KPFC is sponsoring its fourth Youth and Parent Conference, June 20 to 22 in Louisville. The conference will feature workshops to help teens develop better social skills and improve communication skills, plus team-building techniques.

Parents will learn to partner with professionals, learn more about managing stress and network with other parents.

There also will be a leadership academy for young adults, ages 18 to 24, to develop leadership skills and better ways to resolve conflicts.

Everything but transportation is free, including meals and rooms.

Call KPFC for ­registration information at 1-800-369-0533. That number also is good for getting more information about your child's diagnosis.

We don't know what causes mental health problems in our children. Biologically, we know sometimes it is a chemical imbalance, sometimes it's damage to the central nervous system, sometimes it's genetic.

Problems also can surface from environmental circumstances, including abuse, neglect, divorce or a broken relationship.

Regardless, when our children are suffering, we all should be a part of the cure.