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Editorial: Kids Need Healthy Bodies And Minds
Updated May 4, 2016 5:53 AM | Filed under: Health
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(UNDATED) - The following is an editorial by Tami Silverman. She is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org.

Annual sports physicals, dental check-ups, vaccinations and vision screenings - we can easily list the regular opportunities aimed at keeping our children's bodies healthy. Yet the support they need to learn how to adapt to change, build healthy relationships and apply effective coping skills are just as critical to children's long-term health and success.

The mental health of our children includes their emotional, psychological and social well-being. An estimated one in every five Indiana adolescents has a diagnosed mental health disorder. Significantly more regularly suffer mental distress. In fact, research from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.

The severity of mental illness is often complicated by substance use. The Indiana Prevention Resource Center found one in six Indiana high school students have used drugs other than alcohol or tobacco in the past month. That rate drops to one in seven in the Southeast Indiana region, which includes Lawrence County.

While awareness of youth mental health needs has increased in recent years, the availability of services still lags. The annual County Health Rankings report shows Lawrence County has one mental health professional for every 1,576 residents, compared to one for every 710 Hoosiers statewide.

"We've got a serious issue on our hands," said Matt Brooks, CEO of the Indiana Council of Community Health Centers. "It's quite clear that we need to take important steps to improve the ability of children to get access to services."

Early identification of mental health concerns and knowing where to turn are key to helping our children get the services they need. Parents, school officials and medical professionals need to watch for behaviors that may indicate a need for mental health services.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, those warning signs include:

  • Feeling sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks
  • Trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so
  • Out-of- control, risk-taking behaviors that can cause harm to self or others
  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason
  • Severe mood swings that impact relationships
  • Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits
  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or
  • Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still in school that can lead to academic
  • Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
  • Repeated use of drugs or alcohol.

Coordinating services among schools, health care networks and social service agencies can help ensure that youth get the mental health services they need. Informal networks - churches, families and friends - also play an important role in positively impacting children. Lisa Rich, former deputy director of services and outcomes at the Indiana Department of Child Services, says it's often these combined efforts that benefit a child most.

"It really takes more than just the services we might put in place through our partners," Rich added. "It also takes their informal supports really coming to the table to support these families in their time of need."

Untreated mental illness can lead to increased rates of school drop-outs, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide. If you know a child struggling with mental illness, talk to their physician, teacher or school counselor to get a referral to a mental health specialist. A list of Indiana mental health professionals can be found at http://www.in.gov/fssa/dmha/2578.htm. By collaborating to raise awareness around youth mental illness, our communities can improve treatment services for Hoosier kids, ensuring healthy minds along with healthy bodies.

Tami Silverman is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at

iyi@iyi.org.



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