What are the signs and what can we do about mental illness in youngsters?
Mental disorders are more common in the United States than we had once assumed. Recent shootings at schools have raised the issue whether mental illness is the cause and, if so, what can be done about it. In 2013 alone, there were 22 shootings at different schools and 19 kids were killed while 30 were wounded. This doesn’t include the 28 kids shot and 2 wounded at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Connecticut on December 14, 2012.
In the decade of 2010, 81 kids have been killed and 67 were wounded in schools. We all have been horrified by these events and frustrated that nothing seems to be done (or, perhaps, doable) to stem the rising tide of violence in our schools. The tragedy is kids so young have had their lives snuffed out for no reason at all except they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were randomly shot by other kids typically 20-years-old or younger who have lost their way and turned to gratuitous violence to lash out against society for the ills (they perceive) have been imposed on them.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that an estimated 61.5 million American adults (1 in 4) experiences mental illness in a given year. Of this amount, 13.6 million live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder. Of those in the age group 13-18, 20 % experience severe mental disorders in a given year; 13% for those in ages 8-15.
I believe this is the most pressing issue facing the U.S. with respect to the next generation of leaders in our country and educating youngsters to be contributing members of society. Some of our kids will turn to violence and never have the chance to be functioning members of society because their illness goes undiagnosed and/or untreated. Some will have what would otherwise be a promising life taken from them with all the grief that surrounds it for family and friends.
What should we do about it? What can we do about it? At a minimum, I believe we need mandatory testing in our schools as young as 8 years old to look for the signs of mental illness. If we start at an early age, then baseline data can be developed and then kids should we re-tested every year. Some may argue this is an invasion of privacy. Some may even say it violates the Constitution. I won’t argue those points but what I will say is if we don’t take drastic action soon, an increasing number of school shootings will occur and senseless violence will persist with a ratcheting of the number of kids shot and killed or wounded.
As I have blogged about before, we live in a sick society. I think the numbers stated in this blog are proof of it. It’s not just the violence in schools but also in the workplace and in the streets of our cities. It’s violence against the homeless including our returning veterans.
The sad part is the violence attributed to those with a mental illness can be reduced significantly if the disorder is diagnosed early enough and treated with psychotropic drugs and counseling. It’s not a shame to struggle with a mental illness. It is a shame when it is not diagnosed early enough and treated right away so that those affected can be productive members of society.
We need to become more aware of the signs of mental illness -- to spot the red flags. I’m no expert in the field but I think these would include: sudden and persistent declining school performance especially after achieving a level of success in school; persistent closing off of other relationships with long-standing friends and family members; mistreating or violence towards others such as animals; risk-taking behaviors and showing less concern for their own safety; and a sudden and seemingly inexplicable change in behavior.
As the year 2013 comes to a close, our government officials and school administrators should resolve to make it a priority to develop a comprehensive mental illness program in all schools in order to properly diagnose and treat these disorders. Parents have a critical role to play in getting help for their kids as soon as signs appear that something is wrong more than just acting out or throwing a tantrum.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 30, 2013