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Mental Health Center

More Kids Than Ever Have Psychological Problems

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What can parents do to help their children deal with these problems?

First, be alert for signs of potential problems, Ewell says. "Be aware of changes in behavioral patterns -- notice if the child is more isolated, less interested in activities they used to enjoy," he says. "Problems such as depression may first show themselves in children in the form of anger, sullenness."

Other warning signs, he says, are problems with other children; feedback from teachers or other professionals at school; and trouble reading. Parents also should be concerned if a child is easily distracted and has trouble concentrating, or has an unusual fascination with violent themes, guns and bombs, or hurting younger children or animals

What steps can a parent take? "The pediatrician is one of the first places to go," Ewell says. "Consult the child's teacher to find out what counseling or other support services are available in the school district."

Frances Page Glascoe, PhD, says free developmental, behavioral, and mental health screenings are available through the public schools. "If the child is not yet enrolled, seek your local Child Find coordinator under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act." Glascoe, who was not involved in the study, is adjunct associate professor of pediatrics at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville and editor of Ambulatory Child Health: The Journal of General Community and Social Pediatrics.

Another resource is your local Yellow Pages. Look for listings under "counselors," "psychologists," and "mental health services."

The researchers who did the current study note that "brief and rare visits" to doctor's offices may not be the best way to deal with children's emotional and psychological problems. Instead, they say, different forms of care may be needed, from mental health professionals, patient advocates, home visitors, and/or support groups.

"We need continuous, team-based care," says J. Lane Tanner, MD. "Parents ought to band together to demand pediatric care that doesn't just focus on each acute episode of illness. We need care that looks at the child's developmental potential, rather than just maintaining physical health." Tanner is director of the division of behavioral and developmental pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.

The research was funded by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the Health Resources and Services Administration Maternal and Child Health Bureau, and the Staunton Farm Foundation of Pittsburgh.

To locate Child Find coordinators for early intervention programs for infants and toddlers with disabilities in your state, visit www.nectas.unc.edu/contact/contact.html.

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