The Polk Vision forum — What’s Normal? What’s Not? Do You Know A Child in Crisis? — drew about 100 community members.
WINTER HAVEN — As five experts gave advice about recognizing when a child or teen is in a mental health crisis, audience members texted in questions.
The Polk Vision forum — What’s Normal? What’s Not? Do You Know A Child in Crisis? — drew about 100 community members late Thursday afternoon to the Student Center at Polk State College’s Winter Haven campus.
After each expert’s talk, moderator Dr. Daniel Haight, vice president of community health for Lakeland Regional Health, read texted questions.
Questions ranged from “If a teen sees a psychiatrist can it interfere with him enlisting in the military or getting into medical school?” to “If you ask if a child is thinking about suicide, does it plant the idea?”
Dr. George Winny, a child psychiatrist and associate medical director of the Center for Behavioral Health at Winter Haven Hospital, responded to the career question: “I have been a psychiatrist for 30 years and can assure you I do not reveal information to anyone unless a parent signs a release. If I must answer, most of the time I can say ‘he had an issue but is stable now, doing well.’ Every case is confidential.”
Becky Razaire, a licensed mental health counselor and administrative director of outpatient programs at Tri-County Human Health, answered the planting-suicide-seed question: “That is a myth. If a child or teen is contemplating harming himself, that seed is there. Asking the question is opening the door for discussion.”
Here are some key take-aways from the the experts:
• Jim Maxwell, director of student services for the Polk County School District: Twenty percent of students are expected to experience a mental health developmental issue each year that would interfere with school work. With 100,000 children in the Polk public schools, that’s 20,000 children. The School District has 308 student service employees, who can provide services to about 6,160 students. About 7,000 students are being provided mental health services through programs at Winter Haven Hospital, Peace River Center and Tri-County.
“That leaves 12,000 students without therapeutic services,” Maxwell said.
• Winney: On sexual abuse: “Children need to be told respect does not mean blind obedience to authority; if something is strange, let me know.”
On anxiety: a child can exhibit anxiety by being overly eager to please, refusing to go to school, complaining of stomach aches or headaches, being clingy, panicky or having trouble sleeping.
On depression: 5 percent of teens and children suffer depression at any point in time and it is a treatable illness.
• Candace Barnes, director of outpatient therapy services at Peace River Center: “There has been much advancement in the last 10 years in evidence-based treatments. But if you don’t have buy-in of caregivers, you don’t have effective outcomes.
“Therapy will not be successful if you say, ‘fix my child; there is nothing wrong with me.’ Everyone in the family needs to understand how they participate in treatment. Most of the time in therapy, there is homework. The important thing is getting skills and ideas.”
• Razaire: “If may be a difficult conversation, but talk with the child. You may hear things you don’t want to hear … If you are a parent, continue to gather information from others who interact with the child. Ask the teacher, the coach, the club leader how the child is doing, if there is bullying going on.… Consult with a pediatrician, who can rule out medical conditions and can match you up with resources.”
• Amanda Land, lead case manager at One Hope United: “After being removed from my mother at age 2, I lived in 18 homes — foster homes and group homes. I felt so much trauma in my childhood, physical, sexual and emotional abuse. I was Baker Acted three times — at age 13, 15 and 17.
“The question everyone kept asking is ‘what’s wrong?’ The question should have been ‘what happened to you?’”
At age 16, Land said she started with a therapist who allowed her to just sit and not talk.
“She did not take notes, did not say we must fix you in six sessions,” she said.
Land said she eventually showed the therapists her poems.
Land, who is now 25, said caring counselors and therapists at Heartland for Children and caring teachers at Lake Wales High School “believed in me and pushed me.” She graduated from high school, got scholarships, graduated from college, married and now has a young child and custody of three nephews.
“Mental health services won’t fix a child,” Land said. “I still have a huge reservoir of sadness. But I learned to cope.”
Marilyn Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7558. Follow her on Twitter @marilyn_ledger.