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Statement of Rex Cowdry, M.D., Medical Director, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
The U.S. Surgeon General's national action agenda on children's mental health released earlier today is an unprecedented document. It is only the second Surgeon General's report devoted to mental illness, and the first to focus specifically on the urgent, unmet needs of children and adolescents.
Dr. David Satcher has sounded an alarm. The United States faces a public health crisis in addressing mental illness among the youngest members of society, on whom our nation's future very much depends. One in ten children and adolescents suffer from illnesses severe enough to cause some level of impairment, yet in any given year, fewer than one in five of those in need receive necessary treatment. Too many children are suffering needlessly. The long-term consequences are costly, in both human and economic terms.
The Surgeon General correctly emphasizes the need for greater scientific research to identify early indictors of brain disorders, and to integrate mental health examinations into regular healthcare examinations. Standard screening, assessment, and treatment tools are needed, and appropriate treatment is essential. Some children today who take psychiatric medications may not actually need them, but most of those in need are not even being screened, let alone treated.
The report stands as a challenge to parents, teachers, doctors, schools, hospitals, child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Our society's gatekeepers must develop the ability to recognize children in need and assure that they receive skilled evaluation, thoughtful support and appropriate treatment.
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