The statistics are sobering. More than 17 million children under 18 in the U.S. have a psychiatric disorder, and nearly two-thirds don't get any help, says child and adolescent psychiatrist Harold S. Koplewicz, MD. "The diseases that occur before age 24 -- OCD, adolescent depression, ADHD -- those kinds of diseases are underfunded." Much of the blame, he says, falls on the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. "People talk about cancer and diabetes and MS and Parkinson's, but we are still ashamed of our kids who have psychiatric illnesses." He ticks off the potential consequences of untreated childhood mental illness: drug and alcohol addiction, bullying, criminal behavior, suicide, and the rare but devastating episodes of school violence. "Somebody has to speak up for these kids, because left untreated, their lives are really diminished."
That somebody, it turns out, is him. Koplewicz, along with philanthropist Brooke Garber Neidich, co-founded the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit organization in New York dedicated to children's mental health care. Since opening in 2009, the institute has treated nearly 5,000 kids. In May 2015, it released its first report on children's mental health in the U.S. It also has helped researchers from different countries connect and work together to improve their understanding of children's brain development, and speed up the pace of mental-health treatment breakthroughs. After Koplewicz won his WebMD Health Hero award, he started a similar program at the institute, the "Change Maker" awards, which honor people and organizations that are making a difference for children's mental health.
Koplewicz's goal is to make the Child Mind Institute the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital of childhood psychiatric illness. "They transformed the way we think about childhood cancer in this country and how we treat it," he says. "We're trying very hard to shine a light on the face of child psychiatric health."
Koplewicz believes the nation that conquered polio and many types of childhood cancer can one day do the same for mental illness. "It's going to be the science we develop here and share with the world, and the new treatment approaches, that are really going to change the lives of these kids."