Seeking to treat mental illness

Early identification and intervention needed


If any improvements are to be made concerning the treatment of mental illnesses some experts and local officials think that more has to be done as a person reaches their teenage years and then leaves the care of school.

After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, discussion has focused on increasing awareness of when an individual needs professional treatment for mental illness.

According to Dr. James Dolan, director of Nassau County’s Department of Mental Health, Chemical Dependency and Developmental Disabilities Services, there are a few standard areas any clinician should identify such as changes in sleeping patterns or appetite to help identify if a person needs treatment.

For young children, who can’t always describe what they feel, they could be sadder than usual or crying more. For kids through 12-years-old irritability, a decrease in their energy, loss of interest in activities they previously liked or a decline in schoolwork could be a signal. “Something momentary such as temper tantrum shouldn’t be a concern,” said Dolan, who emphasized not “over pathologizing” normal behaviors.

Identifying who may have a mental illness becomes a bit trickier when individuals become a little older. Dolan said current research shows that 14 is the average age when mental illness become evident and 18-22 is when psychosis disorders such as hearing thoughts, seeing things that aren’t there and having paranoid ideas begin. Also, high school age is when substance abuse and eating disorders become more common.

Elissa Queen, the administrator of the child and family unit at Peninsula Counseling Center, and a social worker for 34 years, said that more typically society plays the blame game in seeking an answer for mental illness and that a person’s level of despair truly needs to be assessed.

“Some are beyond troubled individuals and angry doesn’t begin to describe it,” said Queen, who described Newtown shooter Adam Lanza as a “very, very desperate individual.” “They don’t have the person to talk to.”

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