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Youth violence panel draws dozens

Professionals discuss mental health in America and teach some ways to recognize warning signs

Posted: January 20, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 20, 2013 2:00 a.m.

An estimated 50 percent of Americans will need mental health services during their lifetime, health professionals say.

“Mental illness is not a personal weakness or failure,” said Kelly Smith, a marriage and family therapist at the Child and Family Center. “And it is not uncommon.”

During a panel discussion held Thursday night at the center, four mental health professionals detailed some of the ways to recognize and help those suffering from mental illnesses.

The event, attended by about 50 people, included presentations on how to recognize signs of mental illness in children and young adults, how to cope with trauma and how to work to remove stigmas with mental health treatment.

It was prompted in part by the recent rash shootings by young men, many of them troubled by mental health issues, culminating in last month’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Smith described some of the indicators that a child or young adult may be mentally ill and at risk for violent behavior.

“There is no crystal ball,” Smith said. “But there are warning signs.”

These signs include declines in academic performance, social isolation, fascination with violent media, cruel acts toward animals and a history of drug or alcohol abuse, Smith said.

Many of the young men who have committed mass shootings were reportedly victims of bullying or abuse at home.

This is why it is important for people to report when children are being bullied, Smith said.

“Don’t assume things are normal and that ‘kids will be kids,’” Smith said. “As we’re seeing and learning, bullying has long-term effects on our kids.”

Other panelists discussed how to deal with traumatized children, especially in the wake of events like the Newtown shooting.

Susan Wood, a marriage and family therapist, said the most important thing to keep in mind when interacting with young children dealing with a traumatic event is be genuine, caring and listen to what is bothering the child.

It is also important to give children structure and maintain a daily routine, Wood said.

Signs of trauma include becoming withdrawn from family or friends, sleep disturbances, eating problems and changes in mood or behavior, such as becoming angry or sullen.

Julie Tunick, a marriage and family therapist, said these same signs present themselves in teenagers and it is necessary for parents to keep a close eye on their children so they can differentiate between normal adolescent behavior and signs of trauma.

Common signs of trauma in teenagers include slipping performance or attendance at school, a decline in personal hygiene, substance abuse or noticeable weight gain or loss.

As with traumatized younger children, it is important to be reassuring and maintain a routine with a traumatized teenager, Tunick said. It is also important to limit a child’s exposure to television or the Internet.

Signs similar to those associated with trauma are usually present when someone is dealing with depression, said Gabriella Ochoa DelGaudio, who specializes in treating young children.

Depression can affect anyone, DelGaudio said, including children as young as six months.


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