"The Heart of the Matter"

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Week: 525.5 Guest: Dr. Bernard Ahrens, Director, Center for Mental Health Services, U.S. Govt. Topic: Children's Mental Health - One Part Host: Steve Girard Producer: Ed Graham

NEMA: Kids are facing a lot of pressure these days...and those pressures can cause emotional problems. We're here today with Dr. Bernard Ahrens, Director of the federal Center for Mental Health Services in Washington.....

AHRENS: Children, do, unfortunately, have mental health problems. Children are not always small adults, they sometimes have their unique problems, unique issues...based on their developmental age. Sometimes these problems can be severe. Fortunately, they can also be identified, and they can be treated, and there are good treatments available.

NEMA: I guess the problem's bigger than I thought...

AHRENS: I think it is bigger than most people realize....we have a lot of ways of ignoring the problem, denying that it exists...we sometimes attribute it to, the kids just too young, or developmental problems, they'll grow out of it...or maybe its just what we tend to call the myth of the bad kid. That this is just misbehavior, rather than a real, identifiable mental health problem. We estimate probably one in five may have some form of emotional disturbance, but about one in twenty may have a serious emotional disturbance that clearly disrupts his or her ability to function. Unfortunately, we also believe that about two thirds of those with severe mental health problems are not getting the help they need. So, a good part of our public information activities is not only to educate children and youth and adolescents, but also Pediatricians, school nurses, school principals, teachers and so forth. The kinds of disorders that children experience may stem from childhood schizophrenia, to eating disorders, to attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, to depression and anxiety disorders.

NEMA: Is there a stigma attached to those who try to get help, and does it stop some from seeking it out?

AHRENS: Yes, absolutely. First is the natural denial of any problems that occur to oneself or one's family. hat's sometimes difficult to get over. It's even more difficult because of the some of the stigma associated with mental illness, and I'll come back to that. But also, there's a prevailing notion in our society that mental health problems are a sign of personal weakness, weak will or weak character. We know that that's not true. There's good research to indicate that these are real medical problems, they've got a combination of biological, social and psychological parts to them, just like all health problems. There's also the attitude that treatment won't help. We know that treatment, in fact, will help. There's also the tendency to sometimes blame the parents. And we know that all these things are not true. I mentioned stigma before, people are afraid to tell their doctors, afraid to even admit it to themselves. It's also contributed to the lack of coverage in insurance policies. This backfires....this is a penny wise, pound foolish because the failure to cover services often means that people either wait or go without treatment for such a long time that when they do get treatment, it is the most expensive treatment...in patient or residential care.

NEMA: The Center for Mental Health Services has a toll-free Knowledge Exchange Line to call for help or information> 1800-789-CMHS. I'm Steve Girard.

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Last modified: November 01, 2021