Many of us have heard or read the statistics: 13% of children ages 8-15 experience a mental health condition; approximately 50% of chronic mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% begin by age 24. At the same time, the average delay between when symptoms first appear and intervention is 8-10 years.
I have been at NAMI Connecticut for more than 13 years; in that time the gap referenced above has not changed. We’re still identifying issues too late; we need to provide help and support to people when they are as young as possible. It can change the trajectory of their lives.
Like many health conditions, the earlier someone with a mental health condition gets care the better. If we can identify kids who might be having emotional or behavioral challenges we can provide the age-appropriate intervention that can lead to better and faster outcomes for the child. Early identification and intervention is good for parents and caregivers too; it provides hope.
What’s NAMI’s role in this? I think it's to be a clarion voice promoting early identification and intervention. We advocate for researchers to continue to evaluate early responses to newly identified needs and not just with medications. We advocate at the state level for use of tools like screening assessments and collaboration between pediatricians and mental health providers. We take the message of early identification and intervention to schools through the no-cost Ending the Silence program.
Ending the Silence is a 60-minute program for school-age children (5th grade through high school) and school professionals. It’s presented by a parent and a young adult. For students the main focus is on warning signs and how to get help for a friend or oneself. There is a strong suicide prevention message and an anti-bullying message as well as promotion of early access to care. For professionals the program introduces them to warning signs, provides facts and statistics on mental health conditions among children and youth, and provides ways in which to approach families and students to work with them. A family-focused Ending the Silence is currently being developed.
As community members (and those of you who are NAMI members) we can all support young people and promote early access to care. It’s the smart thing to do.
You can find out more about Ending the Silence by visiting the NAMI Connecticut website or speaking to Paloma in our office. You can also find young adult support groups on our website that empower young people in recovery.
Kate Mattias, MPH, JD