In the Community

The difficult and important conversation about children's mental health

Talking about children’s mental health can be hard. Finding help can be a challenge, too.

In an effort to address the stigma around mental illness and to highlight available resources, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation recently hosted a community forum on Children’s Mental Health.

The event, held at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott, was also sponsored by the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters. CHKD plans to open a mental health hospital in 2022 to help children and families affected by mental illness.

During the event, child psychiatrist Gregory K. Fritz explained that childhood is where many mental health disorders begin and where caregivers and medical professionals should intervene.

About 80 percent of the children with serious mental health disorders are not receiving services, said Fritz, who is the past president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. They are often uninsured, children of color, and live in rural areas, he said.

A lack of awareness of mental health issues as well as a reluctance to talk about those issues make it harder to help children in need.

“Children live with more misery and more difficulty reaching their potential because they don't get the mental health services they deserve,” he said. “That just breaks my heart."

Compounding the problem is a need for more pediatric mental health professionals as well as better access to healthcare for children.

That is where CHKD hopes to fill a void in Hampton Roads.

“Our goal is to provide access to services that our families need when they need them,” said Dr. Daniel Spencer of the psychiatry and psychology department at CHKD.

According to statistics he shared at the event, one in five children in the United States has a diagnosable mental health condition. In the region, mental health issues are the most common reason that children between the ages of 10 and 17 are admitted to the hospital.

Addressing this problem will required a community wide effort that includes the medical professionals, the community and families.

To learn more about children’s mental health and the warning signs, click here.

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