Primary Care and Mental Illness in Children

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Counseling Today (a journal of the American Counseling Association in their July 2011 issue reports on a survey released by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the needs of families who have children experiencing mental illness. The Adolescent Action Center of NAMI did a survey of over 500 respondents. Each of these was a parent with a son or daughter who had been diagnosed with mental illness before the age of eighteen.

This certainly seems to be a topic wherein the right balance is needed. To diagnose a child who legitimately displays the signs of mental illness can alleviate much individual and family suffering. Yet there are costs and side effects to making a diagnosis when a condition is not present (a false-positive) or saying something is not present when it is (a false-negative).

Where does initial diagnosis often come from? “Most Americans rely on family doctors and pediatricians for early detection of mental illness and, in many cases, treatment,” said NAMI executive director Michael Fitzpatrick. “Family dependence on primary care for mental-health needs is especially great in smaller communities and rural regions. Primary care professionals need to be prepared to meet the challenge.”

Some of the findings include: 63 percent of families reported children who experienced behavioral or emotional symptoms before age eight; 34 percent of families reported their primary-care doctors were “knowledgeable” about mental illness; 64 percent said that their primary-care doctors were not knowledgeable about local mental health treatment and resources.”

Conclusions made from this survey included the noting of “a gap between primary care physicians’ knowledge of mental illness and the needs of families who have children with mental illness.”

The final report can be viewed on the website of National Alliance for Mental Illness.

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