Op-ed: Detect mental health problems early to prevent violence

Marcy Hoyland

Marcy Hoyland

The increase in school shootings in our country has caused us to spend a lot of time and energy trying to place blame on guns and gun control while still ignoring the root of the problem — that mental health issues in this country are skyrocketing out of control and will only get worse until we do something about it. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that gun control is definitely important and necessary, but so is the mental health of our country.

In the United States, one in five children and adolescents has a mental health issue, and 70 percent of those individuals do not receive care, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. This is unacceptable. We have come to realize that shifting our health care system from a curative focus to a preventative focus will reduce health care costs and improve patient outcomes. By identifying individuals with risk factors to chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, we can treat these people in a way to keep them healthy for as long as possible. The same is true of mental health care. We need to stop ignoring the unmet mental health care issues in our country, because they are only getting worse.

Mental health disorders such as depression, bipolar affective disorder and even psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia can be detected in their earlier stages in childhood. Some issues can start to be seen as early as age 3. If we can identify these individuals early, in the same way we identify the individuals at risk for heart disease and diabetes, we can get them treatment earlier, leading to a better outcome. Schools and classrooms are where children’s mental health problems usually appear, so why not have people in every school who are trained to identify these early warning signs and get these children the help and treatment they need.

In February 2013, California Congresswoman Grace F. Napolitano introduced the Mental Health in Schools Act of 2013 to amend the Public Health Service Act to revise and extend projects relating to children and violence to provide access to school-based comprehensive mental health programs. Napolitano has the support of many, including me, in her efforts. With children spending so much of their time in school it only makes sense to have these services available, which can also eliminate the barriers of access and cost.

The biggest hurdle in this bill is cost. It would require grants of up to $1 million to fund these school-based mental health clinics that would be able to identify and treat children right on campus. However, having these services available in schools will keep costs low in the long run. Compared to the costs placed on social services and the prison system when mental health is neglected, the cost of this accessible mental health care is very low.

I commend Congresswoman Napolitano for her commitment to this bill. She has gained many supporters over the past few years but it is still not enough. I do not understand why anyone would oppose a healthier and safer future for our children.

Glastonbury resident Marcy Hoyland is an R.N. at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

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