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Early Counseling and Parenting Education Can Help Children's Good Mental Health For Life

Children’s good mental health is one of the most neglected areas in modern medicine.  Life in our society is filled with stress, fear and anxiety.  Young children, far from being immune to these feelings, may experience them at an especially deep and personal level.   They need guidance through the rocky shoals but traditionally we have left the mental health care needs of children to the sole discretion of their parents who are often overwhelmed by a “difficult” child despite their efforts and good intentions.

Perhaps the best program for ensuring the good mental health of a child would be to isolate them away from our predatory culture, with a pair of loving, devoted, informed parents who have the time and energy to be good parents day after day without distraction.   And there are good parents out there, no question; when we encounter good parents, those parents deserve the lion’s share of discretion about how their children should be raised.

But many parents are under tremendous stress themselves and don’t have a clue about how to deal with their children’s struggles to exist – struggles that manifest themselves as temper tantrums, difficulty in school, or in the symptoms of real mental illness.  These parents need easy, affordable access to help.

Luckily, there is a growing awareness of these needs.  Many schools provide screening and testing for children who may be suffering with a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder.  There are tests for developmental delays and learning disorders.  For children with real illness, schools and counselors can help with referrals to an appropriate psychologist or psychiatrist.   There are numerous private non-profits these days that can teach parents about parenting and coach them in specific behaviors that may help them and their children in the day to day business of healthy living.

The increasing awareness of the need for, and the availability of good mental health services for children is a good thing – both for parents and for society as a whole.  There is academic research suggesting mental health counseling for children, and help for parents can save money in the long run.   A 2005 study from Yale raised awareness of the need for these services and helped increase state funding for them.    Carole Upshur, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School Worcester says the equation is simple: spend more money to help children [and parents] earlier and the state pays less later in the form of special education and other mental health programs and services.

Perhaps this idea that we should be doing all we can to help children and their parents seems a proposition that goes without saying.  However, in today’s tough economic climate, state-sponsored services are coming under the knife.  To stick with Massachusetts, a 2001 budget with only a few pilot programs funded became a $1.4 million dollar budget in 2008 and $2.4 million in 2009.    But in 2010 the budget was cut to $1 million – a disastrous trend for those interested in happy, successful children.   Let’s work to reverse it in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the country.

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3 comments to Early Counseling and Parenting Education Can Help Children’s Good Mental Health For Life

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  • Joe

    I agree completely that more focus should be put on the mental health of children in our society. The saying, “it takes a village to raise a child,” is no less true today than it has ever been ,however, our culture is moving away from the village model in general. Parents are expected to be self-sustaining and detached from the support that they need to raise health, happy children. Grandmothers, Grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and other extended family are becoming less a part of children’s lives. The community connections that children need to navigate our society are harder to come by.

    I think that with the understanding that these trends are unavoidable it is imperative that we acknowledge that trained professionals like counselors, psychiatrists and psychologists are a more important resource than ever before. It is also imperative the we as a society and nation recognize that it not only makes financial sense to ensure our children’s mental health, but that it is our moral obligation regardless of the the cost.

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