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Early treatment of mental illness key

Lory Pounder
Vail, CO Colorado

FRISCO ” If a blood test showed that someone was suffering from a mood disorder, it would be more readily accepted, said Dr. Robert Chalfant.

After all, it’s “just like you have diabetes, just like you have high blood pressure,” continued the doctor who is the medical director of Colorado West Mental Health and a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

“People have been afraid to talk about mental health issues because of the stigma,” he said, adding that just with other diseases it is a combination of genetics and environment.

So, during May, Mental Health Month, The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and mental health officials are working to erase the stigma and encourage families to talk about mental health.

Currently, only about 20 percent of those suffering from a mental health issue seek treatment, said Chalfant as he sat in his office at the Medical Office Building in Frisco.

“We shouldn’t be afraid … We should talk about it as being a medical issue,” he said. “It’s not a moral issue … not a flaw.”

Throughout the U.S., 15 million children and adolescents suffer from a serious emotional or mental disorder, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

And when left untreated, youth mental illnesses are associated with higher rates of academic failure, school drop-outs, problems at home, substance abuse and crime.

In fact, according to the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice, 70 percent of youth in the justice system suffer from mental disorders.

However, with early intervention, young people can take control of symptoms associated with depression, attention-deficit disorder, anxiety and eating disorders, mental health officials said.

And since mental illness does not disappear in adulthood, it is important to seek treatment.

In the case of depression, that can appear between the ages of 10 and 14, and the condition could worsen if it isn’t treated. As an adult, a person can become bipolar, Chalfant said.

“I see bad outcomes, especially with kids, when there’s a problem and no one’s telling anyone what’s going on,” Chalfant said, adding that parents wouldn’t keep youth diabetes a secret or be ashamed.

Since genetics plays a key role, families who have a history of mental illness should pay close attention if a child suddenly changes and appears depressed for an extended period of time, he said. Also, information from teachers to put a child’s behavior in perspective can help parents determine if they should seek help, he added.

“The bottom line is don’t be afraid of mental health,” Chalfant said. “There’s treatment.”


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