President's plan to identify mental health issues in children - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

President's plan to identify and treat mental health issues in children

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Along with the nation's debate over gun control is the issue of mental health.  

President Obama's gun proposal includes his plan to help identify mental health issues early on in a child's life and provide treatment to address those issues. 

Many South Dakota families are dealing with these mental health issues.  From 2006 to 2011, the number of kids in South Dakota considered emotionally disturbed increased by 35 percent according to the annual KIDS COUNT Factbook released by the University of South Dakota. 

Early treatment and identification plays an important role in preventing future tragedies as mental health issues can touch a child from any family at any age. 

"It can be as young as four, there's no specific starting range, but we're talking really young," said Kristiana Benson, M.A., a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Stronghold Counseling Services. 

Identifying those problems early in a child's life can prevent problems down the road. 

"Identified when symptoms start, we can intervene at that point and kids can go through their normal, developmental stages," said Phyllis Arends, Executive Director of the South Dakota National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

"Early childhood to adolescence, those are our formative years of our personality developing, of how we naturally think, of how we naturally handle problems," said Benson. 

But many problems with children and even young adults arise because those mental health issues were not immediately addressed, leading them to an uncertain future. 

"Unfortunately, they end up at the Juvenile Detention Center," said Arends. 

Parents play a crucial role in addressing those problems before they get out of control. 

"Children who have severe emotional disturbance start with a parent who says, you know, my gut tells me, this isn't right," said Arends. 

Benson says some warning signs parents should look for are explosive outburst of extreme anger or depression. There are also cases where that anger and sadness is directed inward, which can be seen in changes in health, grades, appetite or friends; however, it also makes it more difficult for parents to diagnose on their own. In many cases, the help of a mental health professional is needed. 

But paying for the proper mental health treatment can be an issue. 

"I have parents say…my insurance won't pay for it, there is no way I can afford $150 an hour," said Arends. 

Those insurance issues can also increase the time a patient has to wait to receive care. 

President Obama addresses these issues in his proposal, hoping to see Congress pass some kind of legislation this session. But until then, mental healthcare providers say it's essential for kids to get the treatment they need. 

"If issues are not addressed…they just don't go away, they don't away, and sometimes, specifically at different times in their life, they might come out more frequently," said Arends.

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