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Western Massachusetts Rallies For Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week

JD Allen
A boy rallies outside North Adams City Hall for Children's Mental Health Awareness Day on May 4th.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says up to 20 percent of children suffer from a mental illness at some point. 

Children and their parents, advocates and lawmakers stood outside North Adams City Hall Thursday for Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.

Sunday marked the beginning of a full week devoted to the cause. Recent state data shows at least 54,000 Massachusetts kids 14 and under report feeling depressed, but only half find treatment.  

Children of color are the least likely to get mental help.

A lot of it has to do with changes in the family dynamic, socio-economics and more exposure to alcohol and substance abuse in the home.

Mayor Richard Alcombright says he is always concerned about what is going on in schools. He says children can be bullied, which adds to their emotional baggage.

“They carry more in their backpacks than their books and their lunch, you know?”

Morgan Langlois, program director for The Brien Center's Community Service Agency, says unlike adults, children aren’t good at expressing those feelings. And that’s why it’s important to pay attention to children’s school experiences.

“A kid who has always been really excited about going to school and does well academically, and things like that. And all of a sudden you start to see that deteriorate or they do not want to go to school, or they are getting in trouble at school,” Langlois says. “That is another pretty big warning sign.”

Carrie Crews, the Brien Center’s family support and training program director, says parents should also look for certain behavioral signs.

“You know you might see them, you know, you have an outgoing little one who’s on the go all the time, maybe they’re all of a sudden sleeping a whole lot more, maybe they’re not eating the way they used to. Or maybe they were someone who was sort of laid back and quiet. Maybe all of a sudden they’re off the hook, running around, just when you notice these dramatic changes in your kids,” Crews says.

And it can be difficult to spot and to address, because of the stigma around mental health.

“That it’s sort of this weird puzzle that nobody can put the pieces together,” Crews says.

Crews says part of it is a genetic predisposition – but there are environmental changes that bring issues to the surface.

“It’s so much like every other illness, where, you know, you have to be susceptible to it and then you have to have be exposed to something to sort of trigger it and get it started,” Crews says.

Langlois says parents and school faculty need to keep an open line of communication to help make children feel comfortable talking about their problems.

“I think it’s important, too, to be – not make assumptions and to not be like accusatory when you’re, you know, if you are trying to communicate concerns about a child's behavior whatever it is that you’re seeing that might make you think somethings off because, you know, in that instance the people that are closest to that child and responsible for caring for that child aren’t going to be nearly as receptive to what we are trying to communicate. And I think that does happen. Parents end up getting blamed a lot.”

Crews says a child’s mental health challenges should be treated like any other illness. She says pediatricians are a good place to start.

Crews says the earlier treatment starts, the better the chance for recovery.

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