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Mental Health Advocacy for Children

Mental disorders are increasingly becoming rampant due to an array of issues affecting all individuals across the lifespan. As defined by the World Health Organization (n.d.), “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (para. 1). Individuals’ mental well-being keeps changing with time to achieve optimum health. Children should undergo a mental health assessment and receive appropriate therapy, treatment, and counseling whenever necessary. Such an intervention is critical because quality mental health positively impacts their lives during the transition from childhood to adult life. Mental wellness promotes a healthy emotional outlook on life, social relationships, intelligence, self-confidence, and high self-esteem. Therefore, robust measures are critical in screening, identification, and prompt treatment of mental illness, especially for children.

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The purpose of this paper is to indicate a healthcare problem concerning the inadequacy in mental health advocacy for vulnerable children in the United States, particularly in the state of Georgia. There is a description of the population and the determinants contributing to children’s common mental health issues. Further, the essay outlines the advocacy statement, thus presenting relevant solutions stakeholders in healthcare and the local, state, and federal government should adopt to improve patients health status, especially for individuals aged 17 years and below.

According to Whitney and Peterson (2019), the prevalence of persons aged 17 years and less being diagnosed with one or more mental health illnesses across the states following the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health was approximately 16% (about 7.7 million). Researchers found out that 49.4% of the individuals did not receive medical therapy or counseling from a health practitioner (Whitney & Peterson, 2019). However, one in seven had at least one treatable mental illness. Results from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health indicated that 16.5% of the total sample size of 46.6 million children included in the study reportedly had one or more mental disorders (Whitney & Peterson, 2019). Therefore, such statistics illustrate alarming rates, thus requiring prompt interventions.

Depression, anxiety, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are commonly diagnosed mental illnesses among juveniles. According to Centers for Disease Control (2020), roughly 9.4% of children aged 2-17 years have already been diagnosed with ADHD. Centers for Disease Control (2020) estimated that about 7.4% of children aged between 3-17 years were diagnosed with anxiety, while about 3.2% of children in the same age bracket had depression.

Determinants Contributing to Mental Health Issues

The surrounding within which the juveniles are raised impacts their mental health status. One of the contributing factors that predispose the children to develop mental illnesses is parents’ emotional health. A review of recent literature in Georgia purposefully delved into gaining an additional insight into whether parents’ emotional health correlated with the mental wellness of children under 17 years. Adverse childhood experiences (ACE), such as alcohol and substance abuse, increase the chances of developing mental disorders. According to Szilagyi et al. (2016), childhood experiences such as domestic violence and substance abuse influence parenting. Findings from another study indicated that caregivers experiencing challenges such as neglect, household dysfunction, and abuse were most likely to have difficulties caring for their children (Steele et al., 2016). Stress, poor emotional health, and substance abuse also significantly increase the likelihood of children and adolescents developing mental health disorders.

Anxiety disorders in children remain the most prevalent among mental illnesses. Claims indicate that children and adolescents are more likely to develop such conditions during growth and development periods. Moreover, the onset of anxiety often occurs in the early development stages, usually at the ages of 2-3years old. Lazarus et al. (2016) concluded that parenting factors, for example, maternal overinvolvement, may influence childhood anxiety disorders.

Depression among juveniles has been attributed to detrimental mental outcomes. The common adverse effects include substance and alcohol abuse, social impediments, and low academic performances. Such kids may feel neglected and hesitate to seek assistance from professionals for their mental illness. Consequently, such hesitation due to low self-esteem leads to a bypassing diagnosis. The result is a possible exhibiting of symptoms throughout the entire life.

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The aim of interviews courtesy of the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) was to highlight the differences in MBDDs among children between the ages of two and eight in rural and urban settings. The findings suggested that one in every six children in rural areas were diagnosed with MBDD (Wilson, 2017). Juveniles in rural settings exhibited higher chances of having mental disorders. The researchers considered the inadequacy of mental health resources in rural areas to be a possible indicator of such statistics. Such resources include poor access to medical services, high costs of care, and lack of insurance covers (Robinson et al., 2017). Besides, grappling with accessing limited resources, living in poverty, including low levels of parental education explains the need to strategize on efforts to manage childhood mental illness.

Advocacy Statement

The former Governor of the state of Georgia Sonny Perdue collaborated with the General Assembly in 2009 to establish the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (Centers for Disease Control, 2020). Through the agency, the Commission on Children’s Mental Health was established. It seeks to address issues and suggest policy changes on children’s mental health by collaborating with health and government stakeholders. It further resonated that The Psychiatric Boarding Project is a health promotion advocacy whose efforts are focused on the quality care and treatment for children and adolescents with mental health issues. Despite these initiatives to solve mental disorders in pediatrics, they lack other robust elements for reform.

Advocating that all learning institutions implement mental health programs is essential. Schools provide a viable platform for robust and continuous mental health assessment. All elementary, middle, and high schools must have a psychiatric nurse or physicians as a requirement to undertake psychiatric needs assessment on any child manifesting behavior issues or any other stress emanating from their social environments. The proposal will encourage the children to freely contact the providers promptly without the need of being referred or having to access permission. The policy correlates with The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that calls for robust measures in improving children’s mental wellness through policy development and providing mental health services that are school-based (Promoting children’s mental health, n.d.). It includes the deployment of primary healthcare providers capable of early identification and treating mental disorders among the affected minors.

Currently, most learning institutions in the United States engage their students in part-time counseling sessions through some behavioral interventions which are inadequate to solve issues. As a result, their efficacy remains unstandardized and partially known to clinical professionals. Eventually, such arrangements prompt the children to seek therapy outside the school with a psychiatrist not associated with their learning institutions. The proposal focuses on initiating support groups, in-home support, and transitioning to a long-term facility if necessary. Further, long-term recommendations of care, support groups, or medical therapy would be provided as a care continuum even after graduation. The proposed approach will then be enacted by developing new laws to promote and protect children’s rights in accessing mental health services. Doing so, they will have easier access to counseling, treatment while at school, short-term, and long-term care settings through a referral system.

Conclusion

In summary, there is inadequate mental health support systems linkage to education institutions to cater to the mental well-being of children. My proposed plan program will advocate for providing a setting where students can freely visit to express the daily stressors and get accorded help in an environment where they often spend most of their time. In learning institutions, psychiatric professionals are the initial resource for children. Therefore, implementing my proposed campaign in schools will reduce the incidence of mental illnesses remarkably. The program will minimize the additional medical cost outside their learning institution and eliminate the stigma associated with a formal intervention.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Data and statistics on children’s mental health. Web.

Lazarus, R. S., Dodd, H. F., Majdandžić, M., De Vente, W., Morris, T., Byrow, Y., Bögels, s. m. & Hudson, J. L. (2016). The relationship between challenging parenting behaviour and childhood anxiety disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders, 190, 784-791. Web.

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Promoting children’s mental health. (n.d.). American Academy of Pediatrics. Web.

Robinson, L. R., Holbrook, J. R., Bitsko, R. H., Hartwig, S. A., Kaminski, J. W., Ghandour, R. M., Peacock, G, Heggs, A & Boyle, C. A. (2017). Differences in health care, family, and community factors associated with mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders among children aged 2–8 years in rural and urban areas—United States, 2011–2012. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 66(8), 1-11.

Steele, H., Bate, J., Steele, M., Dube, SR, Danskin, K., Knafo, H., Nikitiades, A., Bonuck, K., Meissner, P., & Murphy, A. (2016). Adverse childhood experiences, poverty, and parenting stress. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science / Revue Canadienne des Sciences du Behavior, 48(1), 32-38.

Szilagyi, M., Kerker, B. D., Storfer-Isser, A., Stein, R. E., Garner, A., O’Connor, K. G., Hoagwood, K. E. & Horwitz, S. M. (2016). Factors associated with whether pediatricians inquire about parents’ adverse childhood experiences. Academic Pediatrics, 16(7), 668-675.

Whitney, D. G., & Peterson, M. D. (2019). US national and state-level prevalence of mental health disorders and disparities of mental health care use in children. JAMA Pediatrics, 173(4), 389-391.

Wilson, A. (2017). Emotional Health of Parents and the Association of Mental Illness among Children. Master’s Thesis, Georgia State University.

World Health Organization (n.d.). Constitution. Web.

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