Carrie Crews takes photos at Thursday's rally for Children's Mental Health Awareness Day. A fundraiser and community event is set for Sunday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Up to one in five children could suffer from a mental illness; at least half of all mental illnesses begin by age 14.
In most recent data in Massachusetts, at least 11 percent of adolescents — about 54,000 — reported a depressive episode but only about half are getting treatment.
"Just like any other illness, the earlier you start to get treatment the better the chances are of achieving recovery," said Carrie Crews, family support and training program director at the Brien Center, on Thursday, prior to a rally at City Hall for Children's Mental Health Awareness Day
Sunday kicks of Children's Mental Health Awareness Week designed to inform parents and guardians about the symptoms and resources for children with mental health or behavioral problems.
This year, the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse is teaming up with National Alliance on Mental Illness of Berkshire County for a Walk-a-Thon and community eventSunday for mental health awareness. All funds raised will go toward helping local residents dealing with mental health issues.
The walk goes on rain or shine beginning at the UNO Community Center on River Street beginning at 3 p.m. From 1:30 to 4, there will be a DJ, face painting, gardening activities, and Slider from the SteepleCats.
Sudden reversals or strange behavior, such as isolation or acting out, may be signs that a child is dealing a mental health problem.
"As adults, we can pretty much articulate how we feel," said Mayor Richard Alcombright on Thursday. "Kids sometimes can't so a lot of mental health issues display themselves through behaviors. ...
"The idea is people may not know what to do about kids acting different."
Pediatricians are a good source for information and can often distinguish between problematic behavior and coming-of-age actions.
Crews and Morgan Langlois, program director for Brien's Community Service Agency, also pointed to teachers and school adjustment counselors who may be more attuned to changes in children's behavior.
Sometimes, Crews said, being too close means families may miss the signs so it's important to listen to what others have noticed. But then parents may blame themselves.
"I think it's important not to make assumptions or be accusatory if you're trying to communicate concerns about a child's behavior or whatever you seeing," Langlois said. "Parents are blamed a lot."
Children can be affected by disorders ranging from anxiety to autism to schizophrenia. How and why these disorders manifest is still largely unknown.
"It's sort of this weird puzzle that sort of nobody can put the pieces together," Crews said. "There's genetic predisposition ... you'd need to be susceptible and you'd have to have something environmentally trigger what you're susceptible to.
Triggers could be changes in family dynamics, substance abuse, or school bullying or pressure, the mayor said. "We see kids all the time, they carry more in their backpacks than their books or their lunch. ...
"All this stuff displays itself in different ways for different kids."
Alcombright frequently describes mental illness as a the "loneliest disease" and said taking about the issues publicly and ensuring families know there are resources available are critical to helping children cope.
"If you're noticing something different, address it right away. If your child was screaming with ear pain, we'd take him right away to a pediatrician," he said. "Maybe we tend to wait when the other things display themselves. We need to be attentive to those as we are to the physical wounds."
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