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CRAZY KIDS? Test young school children for mental illness, Ortiz says

Assemblyman Feliz Ortiz is pushing to have a mental health professional assigned to each elementary school in the city. Eagle file photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Citing the shocking results of a study by the New York City Department of Health, which found that 1 out of 5 pre-teens in the city struggles with mental health issues, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Sunset Park) said he wants to have kids analyzed.

Ortiz, former chairman of the Assembly Mental Health Committee, said he has introduced a bill to conduct mental health screenings in all public schools to detect problems in children early so that the youngsters can receive the help they need.

The bill also calls for a mental health professional to be stationed in each elementary school in the city.

Currently there is no requirement to have mental health professionals in elementary schools.

“By having mental health professionals in these settings, we can assist with early diagnosis, interventions, and treatments. These services will address the needs of individuals, their families and ultimately, the community as a whole,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz said he was alarmed by the results of the study released on March 25. The Health Department’s analysis showed that 1 in 5 children between the ages of 6 and 12 suffer from a mental illness, the New York Post reported.

But the number of children suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety might actually be higher, Ortiz said.

Children don’t get the help they need due to parents’ inability or reluctance to seek help, he said. This can be caused by the failure to recognize a behavior as a mental illness, by the social stigma related to this issue or simply by the lack of access to mental health professionals, he said.

Ortiz said he believes that it is crucial to start universal mental health screenings at an early age. This will allow early detention and diagnosis, which will increase the chances of individuals getting the professional help they need, prior to much more serious behavioral problems.

Early detention and treatment can curve the negative economic impact that undetected mental illnesses have in all municipalities throughout the state, Ortiz said.

Ralph Perfetto, president of the Bay Ridge Mental Health Council, said he supports Ortiz’s idea. “I’m in total agreement with the assemblyman,” Perfetto told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “Early intervention is important,” he said.

Part of the reason for the rise in the numbers of pre-teens facing mental health issues is the economy, according to Perfetto. The economic pressures that parents face are filtering down to children, he said. “The economy is bad and we have a lot of single parent families. A lot of kids are not getting the nurturing they need at home because the parents are so worried about keeping their jobs and paying the bills,” he said.

Putting a mental health professional in all elementary schools might help to reduce the stigma of mental illness, Perfetto said.

“It’s not as it used to be. We are slowly getting rid of the stigma,” he said.

Laurie Windsor, president of the Community Education Council of School District 20, said she opposes the idea of universal mental health screenings. "I think that's a little over the line," she said, adding that she believed it violated family privacy.

Windsor said placing a mental health health professional in all schools would be redundant. "We alreayd have it. Every school has a guidance counselor. If there's a problem, if there's an issue, if a child needs help, the guidance counselor is there," she said.

April 3, 2013 - 10:35am


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