Children need more mental health services | GUEST COMMENTARY

  • Monday, March 29, 2021 4:33pm
  • Opinion

By Rep. Tana Senn, guest commentator

Every day I hear stories about young people struggling with mental illness. These children, whose biggest worry should be whether they finished their homework, are silently burdened, with few resources to turn to for help. Far too often, interventions and support come too late and another child is lost to mental illness.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Most mental disorders follow a developmental course that typically starts early in life, with more than half of all adult mental health problems beginning before the age of 14. If we can connect children and their families to services early on, we can make a significant difference in the overall mental health picture in our state.

One barrier to accessing mental health is stigma. Too many fear that seeking treatment will lead to judgment or negative repercussions. Part of the solution must be to recognize that mental health issues affect people in all communities, including our own.

During a particularly difficult period for my family, where, in a thirteen-month period, we lost my mom, dad and grandma. My kids struggled. It was hard on me, but it was devastating for my kids. They were sad, and worried, that another beloved family member might die.

Although dealing with death is never easy, my kids were fortunate to have school counselors who helped them learn tools to cope with grief.

This attention to their mental health was critical for them to get back to being kids. But far too many kids don’t have regular access to school counselors, mental health services, or a safe and stable home.

What many children experience is a far more extreme trauma than the death of an elderly family member: Witnessing domestic violence. Becoming homeless. Having a parent incarcerated or killed. Being sexually abused.

These adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, can lead to depression, aggression and other behavioral and health issues. Imagine for a moment that you’re a 12-year-old kid. Your mom has been incarcerated, your abusive father is absent, and now you and your siblings have to move in with a different relative and go to a new school. How does a 12 year old with limited access to mental health services handle these traumatic and stressful events? Studies show that the more ACEs a child has, the higher the likelihood they will be diagnosed with a mental illness as an adult.

When children don’t have the services or tools they need to address their mental health, they are significantly more likely to drop out of high school, suffer from mental health problems as adults and be involved in the criminal justice system.

This should come as no surprise since extensive research shows that early experiences shape how the brain is built. We know that reaching kids early helps them develop healthy brain architecture and build a strong foundation for mental wellbeing.

This past year, the State Legislature convened a Children’s Mental Health Workgroup to look at gaps, barriers and opportunities to improve kids mental health services and access.

It rapidly became clear that we need to meet children ‘where they are,’ whether it is in the doctor’s office or the school building. The need for additional mental health professionals, as well as ensuring services are culturally and linguistically appropriate, also emerged as priorities.

Many of the recommendations of the workgroup were captured in House Bill 1713 currently before the legislature. From screening new moms and teens for depression to expanding telemedicine and school mental health resources, the legislation seeks to build capacity for addressing children’s mental health.

With our emergency rooms, jails, mental hospitals and underpasses overflowing with adults needing mental health treatment, isn’t it time to start addressing these issues further upstream?

Tana Senn is the State Representative from the 41 st Legislative District and chaired the Children’s Mental Health Workgroup.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Jayendrina Singha Ray is a PhD (ABD) in English, with a research focus on the works of the South African Nobel Laureate John Maxwell Coetzee. She teaches English Composition and Research Writing at Highline College, WA, and has previously taught English at colleges in India.
Asian women and racial violence in the aftermath of Atlanta | Guest column

In her famous essay “The Laugh of the Medusa,” Hélène Cixous resurrects… Continue reading

Stock photo
Access to cash is a prescription for better health | Guest column

By Danny Low, For the Reporter As I see pictures of my… Continue reading

Talking points for next year’s legislative agenda | COMMENTARY

“Overall several million dollars are getting funneled into roughly two dozen new task forces, work groups and studies.”

Gun rights advocates won the battle, but may lose the war | COMMENTARY

“NRA leaders will need to decide if it’s worth putting resources into a fight in a Left Coast.”

Focusing on knowledge, equity and inclusion

As a public institution, the King County Library System serves people of… Continue reading

Fueling educational opportunity in Washington

By Allison Morrell How can public school students care for a sick… Continue reading

Children need more mental health services | GUEST COMMENTARY

By Rep. Tana Senn, guest commentator Every day I hear stories about… Continue reading

How to stress less in the face of uncertainty | GUEST COMMENTARY

“If you find yourself struggling with intense anxiety, hopefully you will find the Three Step Plan for Worry helpful.”

Stock photo
The right to vote helps rehumanize incarcerated people | Guest column

By Kim Bogucki, For The Reporter In 2008, I began asking incarcerated… Continue reading

Tim Eyman. File photo
Editorial: Judge’s rebuke of Eyman protects initiative process

Along with a $2.6 million fine, the ruling places restrictions on Eyman’s future initiative campaigns.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Regional homeless agency behind schedule, but there’s hope | Roegner

It is the middle of winter and it’s too cold for anyone… Continue reading