Author: Susan Robinson, Lindsay K. Saunders
May 21, 2019 – May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and during this time attention turns to increasing public awareness surrounding the issues of children’s mental health and overall mental health. The goal is to reduce stigma that might be associated with seeking treatment and to provide resources for those seeking services, especially suicide prevention.
Throughout North Carolina, awareness events have been convened in communities, including schools, libraries, parks and recreation centers.
On May 8, leadership from DHHS, including Secretary Mandy Cohen and Kody Kinsley, Deputy Secretary for Behavioral Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, presented Governor Roy Cooper’s Mental Health Awareness proclamation to participants of a roundtable on untreated behavioral health issues and the importance of access to mental health care, held at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh. Collaboration is extremely important to the mission of improving health outcomes for some of North Carolina's most medically fragile and vulnerable populations with mental illness.
On that same day, the N.C. Collaborative for Children, Youth, and Families also celebrated Child Mental Health Awareness Week, by awarding the "Gary Anders Making a Difference Award for Family-Driven Care" to LeJay Parker, of N.C. Medicaid and the North Carolina Families United Training Award to Casey Pruitt, a family partner from an LME/MCO. Paul Lanier, a UNC Professor social work partner, read Gov. Cooper's Children's Mental Health Awareness Week and Children's Mental Health Awareness Day Proclamation.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 84 percent of children and youth experience at least one traumatic life event before entering adulthood. Traumatic events could include bullying, experience with death and loss, natural disasters, exposure to community violence, car accidents, sexual or physical abuse, life-threatening medical conditions or painful procedures. Most mental health conditions experienced in adulthood develop prior to the age of 14. One in five children experience mental health challenges, with many not diagnosed or treated.
Research shows that children and youth exposed to traumatic events are more likely than their peers to miss school; have health and behavior problems; use alcohol, tobacco or marijuana; and attempt suicide. While some children can cope with traumatic experiences with the support of their families, many need professional behavioral health treatment.
Suicide is the leading cause of death of children, between the ages of 10-17. There is no one cause for death by suicide; risks are cumulative. Prevention and early intervention are possible to avoid suicide.
Dr. Carrie Brown, DHHS Chief Medical Officer for Behavioral Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, appeared on Education Matters’ 100th episode, which focused on the topic “How Do We Keep Our Children Safe?” Brown said it is important to ask the tough questions about self-harm risks and suicidal thoughts. Taking time to listen and learn the signs and symptoms of suicide are ways everyone can help, she said.
Talking about suicide, knowing how to seek help and helping people get help are important steps in suicide prevention. For help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, go online or text ‘help’ to 741-741.
Whole Health Resources
Mental health is essential to overall health and well-being for both adults and children. Often children are not part of the conversation regarding mental health, but serious emotional and mental health disorders in children and youth are real and treatable.
The Department strives to support initiatives for effective, family-driven, youth-guided and culturally appropriate mental health resources for children and youth with mental health challenges and also their families. For additional information about mental illness resources, please refer to: