Mental Health Awareness Month – A Focus on Children and Families with Gary Blau, PhD

Mental Health Awareness Month is a good time to remember that mental illness is actually a pediatric disease. That’s because half of all mental illnesses emerge by the time a child turns 14, and 75% by the time a person is 24.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, studies indicated that 1 in 5 of our nation’s young people will experience a mental health challenge, and that 1 in 10 will have a serious mental health condition that will impact their ability to function at home, in school, and in the community.

And while these numbers were staggering prior to the pandemic, we can expect that issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder will persist for weeks, months, and even years to come.

The good news is that we are talking more about mental health than ever before and we are slowly chipping away at the stigma that often comes with mental health conditions.

We understand the importance of engaging youth and families in their own care, and in working to improve services and systems. We understand the importance of working with schools, so staff can identify problems and begin working with parents as quickly as possible. We understand the importance of working with pediatricians and primary care providers who are often the first place families turn to when they are concerned about the mental health of a child. And we understand the importance of working with child welfare and juvenile justice professionals as so many of the youth involved in these systems have mental health conditions;

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing an expansion of telehealth, which is effective and efficient, and has been shown to improve mental health care access, capacity, and outcomes.

During the 86th Legislature, Texas invested in improving children’s mental health in a host of ways. From the formation of the Texas Child Mental Health Consortium, to the adoption of programs like Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN), Texas has made significant strides to ensure that every child who needs care is able to receive that care when and where they need.

The advances made in the last legislative session will make mental health care far more accessible, providing resources to primary care physicians – like CPAN – to help them identify and treat many mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, conditions the COVID-19 pandemic will likely exacerbate. In addition, schools now have the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT) program, which, at the direction of parents, allows access to health providers via telemedicine and telehealth to help meet the mental health needs of at-risk children and youth. Maintaining these advances will go a long way towards improving the emotional wellness of our youth and families.

Through this crisis and beyond, we must continue to focus our attention on our children and the importance of caring for every child’s mental health. We want to strengthen the ability of all of us to talk about mental health freely and openly and ensure that it is Okay to Say if you’re not okay.

Now, more than ever, we need to work together to do everything we can to raise happy, healthy, children. Supporting children’s mental health now and in the future is paramount to that make that happen.