There's hope for kids with mental challenges - Daily Courier

Saturday, May 12th 2012

The Daily Courier. 

"You know how it's not cool how we were treated in the past. The selfish things life has done to us ... we are only human... it is very possible for us to break." Thus started the talk of one of the clients of Kairos (formerly Southern Oregon Adolescent Study and Treatment Center) at its Celebration of Hope luncheon recently. This event is put on each year to draw attention to Children's Mental Health Awareness Month (May). May 9 is National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, but the whole month is an opportunity to educate the public regarding children's mental health.

What is it that we want to make the public aware of? We want you all to know that adverse childhood experiences are a leading determinant of not only mental health ­problems, but also adverse physical health outcomes across the life span. Mental well­ness is a key to physical wellness. Yet there is much else we think the public should know: For example:

  • One in five children has a diagnosable mental illness.
  • Out of those, only about one in three is receiving help
  • Children do well if they can. If they are not doing well, it is not because they don't want to or are not motivated. It is because they have lacking or lagging thinking skills that can be identified and that they can develop with help.

"We come into treatment like a broken package with big letters on us saying what we are and who we are. The 'handle with care' sign is gone like we want no one to care for us. The 'handle care' sign was not on me at all. I was broken, but I did not want to show it. I tested the waters showing my tough face ... I tried to get them to hate me. I would try talking with staff to get rid of my pain; then I started being mean all over again." It's a grim start, not unusual for children with mental health challenges. However over the past several years, we in the field have learned that:

  • Children are resilient and can recover from mental health challenges. Children’s mental health issues are most prominent between the ages of 12 and 25 and also represent the most serious health problem for people in this age group.
  • Helping children build strengths and develop assets has a more powerful effect on outcomes than attempting to undo deficits.

"I realized I had nowhere to go, but I had a plan I was focused on. Getting my mom back; I wrote poems and stories, I spoke with staff. They stuck with me over several stops and starts, and this time deep down I did not question their sincerity." Treatment is effective. We know from the research that:

  • Helping children remain connected or to reconnect with their families is a key to achieving successful outcomes, regardless of the family history.
  • Working with youth, young adults and families in partnership is proven to be effective. Empowering youth and families to have a voice in their treatment is proven to yield results.

"I have learned to accept caring. You taught me that my life will get better, no matter what I've been through, if I let it." And her mother said, "My daughter and myself have a voice that people believe in. We see that light at the end of a long dark tunnel. Our moment has come." Our experience has shown us that change is possible at any moment.  Sometimes the seemingly small interaction or intervention has a large effect. This teenager and her mother were reunified in court last week; after nine years, and have resumed their life as a family.

This is why we celebrate hope each year during Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month. Here in Josephine County, we have particular reason for hope. We are blessed with three programs helping children with mental health challenges and their families.

In additional to Kairos, this community has over the past 20 to 30 years supported the development of Options for Southern Oregon and Family Solutions (formerly Family Friends). Each of these organizations makes a dif­ference for many children and families. So as we highlight awareness of children's mental health, let's celebrate the successes, the resilience of those we work with and a community that values hope for the future.

 Bob Lieberman is CEO of Kairos, an organization formerly known as Southern Oregon Adolescent Study and Treatment Center, which has provided children's mental health services in Southern Oregon for almost 35 years. People wanting more information about Kairos can call 541-956­ 4943, ext. 1116, or visit its website www.kairosnw.org.