Eliminating the Stigma of Mental Health

Dr. Bennett L. Laventhal, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and Alderman Willie B. Cochran at a Mental Health Forum on November 13, 2014. 

Dr. Bennett L. Laventhal, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, and Alderman Willie B. Cochran at a Mental Health Forum on November 13, 2014. 

Over the last few years, I have been working diligently to promote the availability of Mental Health Resources in our community. Just to name a few accomplishments: we have re-opened a Mental Health Clinic in Woodlawn that's now operated by Thresholds, we have opened a Pediatric Mental Health Center in Englewood, and we have brought in Metropolitan Family Services to Back of the Yards/New City to provide mental health and counseling resources to children and their families. However, our issues with Mental Health do not end once resources are made available. It is very unfortunate that the topic of Mental Health has been stigmatized over the years. It is so stigmatized, that even when resources are readily available, many individuals choose not to seek help for fear of being labeled as "crazy" or another offensive term. 

But statistics show that mental health disorders are very common: 

  • 1 in 5 children birth to age 18 has a diagnosable mental disorder. 
  • 50% of all chronic mental illness begins by age of 14. 
  • 50% of children and youth in the child welfare system have mental health problems. 
  • 54% of children with emotional and behavioral disturbances drop out of school. 
  • 70% of children and adolescents are not receiving any treatment for their mental illness. 
  • 70% of the youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition. 
  • 90% of children who commit suicide have a mental health disorder. 

Because of this, I have been working alongside strong community partners to better educate everyone about Mental Health issues, the various kinds of mental illnesses, treatment options, and - most importantly - how common it is to have a mental illness and successfully treat it! There is nothing to be stigmatized about receiving mental health treatments. Individuals living with mental health challenges are all capable of living productive lives, just like everyone else. The key to achieving success in school, at home, socially, and throughout life is to access effective, empirically-supported mental health resources in the community. That's why I am working along with former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, Dr. Bennett L. Laventhal and Public Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair to promote and increase support for mental health resources to help us improve the outcomes of our children and families facing mental health issues. 

The early years of a child's life are critical for identifying emotional and behavioral problems that can be an early signal of mental health disorders. Effective prevention and early intervention services promote positive cognitive, social, and emotional development of children. These kinds of development are prerequisites to school readiness and academic success. By providing support to parents through quality parenting education programs, we can help strengthen family relationships, reduce incidents of child abuse and neglect, and we can improve children's educational performance. When kids demonstrate emotional and behavioral concerns it is essential to provide timely assessments and interventions.

Individualized, child-centered and family-focused support services must address the unique needs of kids and their families. Integration of mental health with primary health services in health clinics, pediatrician offices, hospitals, and schools can help increase family engagement and lead to better treatment outcomes. Because developmental disorders in children can directly affect their school performance, it is extremely important to identify these early on before the child embarks on a path of academic failure! 

I cannot stress enough how important it is for all of us to let go of our negative thoughts as they relate to Mental Health Illnesses and instead focus on ensuring that none of our children go without necessary treatment. Ignoring these issues will have far lasting negative effects on the individuals, the children, the families, and our communities. Let's work together to reduce the stigma of seeking help, and instead, let's promote healthy communities. Healthy minds are just as important as healthy bodies. 

Posted on November 26, 2014 .