More Kids Struggling with Mental Wellness, Medical Community Says Focus Must Shift

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 17.2 percent of high school students "seriously considered" suicide over 12 months, and 13.6 percent said they had made a plan to carry it out.

Children's Health says the number of young people considering suicide may be increasing, but Texas ranks near the bottom of the country in kids' access to mental health services.

"We really need more early intervention and early detection," says Marcie Melvin, the director of program implementation for child and family policy at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. "That's going to help promote those more positive outcomes."

Melvin says children may start to deal with adverse experiences at a young age and start developing mental health issues, but they may be ashamed to talk about those issues.

"We can teach them reading, writing and arithmetic all day, but if, emotionally, they're stressed out, they're overwhelmed and they're traumatized, they're not going to learn," she says.

Panelists said parents can "normalize" those feelings by encouraging their kids to talk about all aspects of their lives and explaining how common emotional issues are. Melvin says 76 percent of Texans have a loved one or a friend with a mental health issue.

They say schools can also address the issue by encouraging kids to open up about issues they may struggle with.

"We walk on eggshells," Melvin says. "We do hearing and vision screenings but not mental health."

Panelists also cited a "triage problem" as a barrier to kids receiving treatment. They say people may want to see a psychologist or psychiatrist, but the schedules of a specialist are often full. They say they are now encouraging people to discuss emotional problems with their primary care doctor, who may be able to diagnose and treat and the problem.

The report says boys are four times more likely to die from suicide, but girls are more likely to attempt suicide.

Children's Health has hosted "Beyond ABC" for 16 years. The conference focuses on quality of life for children through health, economic security, safety and education.

"Mental health informs all of those dimensions," says Chief Executive Christopher Durovich.

Beyond ABC says the number of children in Dallas County receiving mental health diagnoses through Medicaid has increased from about 8,000 in 2013 to almost 22,000 last year. The number of diagnoses in Collin County has increased from almost 1,500 in 2013 to 3,600 last year.

Durovich says early diagnoses and interventions are necessary to help kids succeed in school, which, in turn, will lead to more opportunities growing up.

"A large percentage of our third graders are not able to read at grade level," he says. "By the time they get to high school, fully a third of our high school graduates are not college ready to go on with the next phase of their life and to be successful."

Panelists say most suicides are the result of someone who does not have the coping or problem-solving skills to deal with emotional trauma. They say schools are beginning to have "open, honest conversations" with kids to show them negative experiences are normal.

They say the Texas legislature took a step forward this year by passing a bill that creates a "Mental Health Consortium," but they say state lawmakers have cut funding for child mental health services.