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All kinds of minds: Combating the pediatric mental health stigma

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hospital news

"We all need help at some point in our lives." This pertinent message was shared by Jaime Ortiz, Director of the Heritage Program at Val Verde Regional Medical Center. He was addressing the May Interagency Meeting during Mental Health Month. "It is about quality of life," he added, "good mental health can facilitate good physical health which increases quality of life." He was introducing Lyndsee Cooper, MA, LPC who made a presentation titled: Combatting the Pediatric Mental Health Stigma.

To begin her presentation, she pointed out several statistics concerning young people and mental health. One of them was suicide is the third leading cause of death among 10 to 24 year olds. This is a very alarming statistic and underlines the need for mental health services aimed at youth.

"Stressors for children are changing," Cooper said, "There are constant state tests, the pervasiveness of social media means bullying can now happen 24/7 and kids have multiple extra-curricular activities. All of these factors can lead to feeling overwhelmed." Children are resilient, as we have all no doubt heard; but they need the tools to support them when dealing with emotions, relationships and difficult feelings. They need a support system. Lyndsee Cooper can be the unbiased, trained and experienced person who can provide these tools and support to children. "I work with the whole family," she said, "I can help them communicate better which can be a big help. I am there as long as they need me."

Cooper will be starting a Pediatric Mental Health Program at Val Verde Regional Medical Center in mid-June. Initially, the program will serve children from 5 to 17 who are on Medicaid. The program should be able to accept other forms of health insurance in the fall. Pediatric Mental Health Therapy involves a variety of modalities. They include talking, playing with games and/or toys, art, watching videos about feelings, walking and yoga. "I utilize whatever method is most appropriate for the patient. Yoga is one thing that has worked beautifully to help children who are having issues expressing their feelings in positive ways. It teaches them to be mindful. It teaches them body awareness and positive control. I get to know the child and the family and then discover what works best."

There is a stigma associated with mental health services. Some people feel it shows weakness to seek services. Some feel it is unnecessary to involve anyone outside the family unit. "The media portrays only the very worst of mental health issues and the most extreme treatments," said Cooper, "most mental health services revolve around finding a correct diagnosis for issues and treating patients and their families by providing the proper support which includes counseling, sometimes medication and support." The benefits to the community of providing mental health services are multiple. There is less of a strain on the legal system. Many children involved with juvenile justice are actually suffering from mental health issues. "Parents and guardians need to look for the signs," said Cooper, "First is a change in personality. There may also be changes in school performance or attendance, insomnia or sleeping too much, weight change, acting inappropriately for their age, anger or hostility and an inability to concentrate. A professional diagnosis is key," says Cooper, "Symptoms can mimic multiple issues. A proper diagnosis lets us know what we are treating."

For more information on mental health services provided by Val Verde Regional Medical Center, please call 830.282.0855.