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Release: Sept. 27, 2001

Child Health Month says 'It's Okay to Ask for Help'

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Pediatricians across Iowa and the nation are emphasizing mental health among children and adolescents this October during Child Health Month by telling young people, "It's Okay to Ask for Help."

Eleven percent of children ages 9 to 17 have a mental health problem that causes significant difficulties at home, in school or in the community, according to the U.S. Surgeon General's 2000 report on "Mental Health in America."

"All too often the mental health problems of children or adolescents go unrecognized until a teen suicide or a school shooting devastates a community," said Brenda Cruikshank, M.D., University of Iowa associate professor (clinical) of pediatrics in the Children's Hospital of Iowa. "All of us face the challenge of recognizing and promptly treating mental health disorders among children."

Children and teens with untreated mental health problems are more likely to be unemployed, abuse drugs, become physically ill and serve time in prison.

"Over a period of years, the expense to society in terms of both direct costs and lost productivity becomes astronomical," said Mary Larew, M.D., UI assistant professor (clinical) of pediatrics in the Children's Hospital of Iowa. "Help for mental illness is available, and it works."

Child health specialists advise parents and teachers to talk frequently to children and listen carefully to their responses. A child with a mental health disorder may seem sad, tired, restless or out of sorts, or may spend a lot of time alone and exhibit low self-esteem. Other warning signs of a potential mental health problem include frequent outbursts of shouting, complaining or crying, trouble performing or behaving in school, and difficulty paying attention or concentrating on tasks such as homework. Sudden changes in eating patterns, sleeping too much or too little, or losing interest in hobbies such as music or sports are also possible symptoms of a mental health disorder. Signs of drug or alcohol abuse and discussions of death or suicide should also require immediate attention.

Child Health Month, with a focus on child mental health and its theme, "It's Okay to Ask for Help," provides an opportunity to participate in prevention activities. The Iowa chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics sponsored a poster contest for students in kindergarten through 8th grade, inviting students to create posters that discussed their feelings and how to ask caring adults for assistance.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) established Child Health Month in 1992. For more information, contact AAP at (800) 433-9016 or on the Web at www.aap.org, or the Children's Hospital of Iowa at (888) 573-5437 or online at www.uihealthcare.com.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at www.uihealthcare.com.