Oct 8, 2018

Dr. Gellner: Mental illness seems to be on the rise in children. In fact, one in four children has a mental health diagnosis.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering the Healthy Kid Zone with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: As a pediatrician, I see how prevalent mental illness is. And as a parent, I see how my children and their friends struggle with the pressures put on them every day. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that 50% of all chronic mental illness begins before age 14 and 75% begins by age 24, with 20% of all youths, ages 13 through 18, living with a mental health condition. Anxiety and depression, ADHD, substance use, physical and sexual abuse, and cyber bullying are all issues that our youth face, and often parents don't know where to turn to get help.

We are seeing an increase in teens with suicidal thoughts, and kids who are attempting suicide are getting younger and younger as pressure on kids is intensified. This is mainly thought to be due to social media, bullying, and the desire for increased technology and wanting to live life at a faster pace to keep up with their peers. It's hard because for most of us parents, our kids didn't come with instruction manuals and we cannot parent our kids the way our parents did us. It's cliché to say, but it's really true. Times, they are a-changin' and we have to change with them.

Bullying is one example of changing times. It used to be that kids could just go out after school and beat each other up, have fistfights to settle differences, that's the end of it. But that's not acceptable anymore. Physical contact of any kind, positive or negative, is frowned upon. Children are not programmed to ignore bullying either, and it's gotten more mean spirited since the onset of social media, not to mention that sexting is a common thing now. Today's youth are growing up in a culture where there is pressure to use drugs and have sex at a younger and younger age.

Suicide rates are climbing, and there aren't enough resources to be able to address this increase fast enough. Kids may feel like they aren't being heard, and they begin to isolate themselves and have anger issues or do self-harm like cutting, and schools often have a difficult time managing these issues. While there are social workers and school psychologists available in many schools, they aren't always readily available during a crisis.

That is why pediatricians start screening for depression and anxiety as young as 12 years old. The younger we can identify a child at risk, the better the chances of getting that child the help they need and the better the chance of recovery. People are talking about these mental issues more, but the need for services is still lagging, and early intervention is key in getting effective treatment. While pediatricians are the first line for parents, we often see issues too complex for us to handle. If a parent is concerned that their child may possibly have a mental illness, it's time to have them evaluated by their pediatrician to see if they need to be referred to a therapist or even a psychiatrist.

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