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Parents may be key in child mental health

News-Topic - 4/7/2019

April 05-- Apr. 5--Parents might be the key in recognizing and treating mental health issues among local children, a children's mental health researcher told the Caldwell County Child Collaborative.

As part of a Trauma-Informed Communities Grant awarded to the county last December, the collaborative has been working with Dr. Katelyn Donisch to evaluate the county's current mental health practices. Donisch is a clinical associate at the Center for Child and Family Health in Durham and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University.

In February, Donisch began circulating a survey among employees in schools, the medical field, and the court system. On Thursday, she discussed the results and highlighted the need for Caldwell County to develop more concrete approaches to mental health treatment.

Donisch explained that trauma treatment is difficult because both symptoms of trauma and the things that can trigger it can be invisible.

"Sometimes, what the child says makes them feel safe is a lot different than what I or the psychological staff think would make them feel safe," she said.

Donisch said this also makes it hard to identify who needs a higher level of care. Only 16 percent of children who experience mental trauma develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a condition that health care providers are familiar with identifying and treating, but the remaining 84 percent might still require some treatment. Too often these children slip through the cracks, Donisch said.

Mary Lloyd of Vaya Health suggested that the collaborative organize an advisory board of parents to attend the collaborative's meetings, listen to the discussions, and give feedback afterward. She said that if parents can get involved in trauma training, then warning signs are likely to be noticed much sooner than they are now.

Jill Duffy, the student services director for the Caldwell County Schools, agreed. Providing support for parents and giving a direct line for input often has a trickle-down effect and helps with behavioral issues among students, she said.

Alicia Stanislaw, service line director of psychiatry, women, and children at Caldwell Memorial Hospital, said that trauma-informed care is still a new concept from the medical perspective.

"We are still 10 years behind the school system," she said, adding that she hopes for continued collaboration between schools and health care providers.

Reporter Garrett Stell can be reached at 828-610-8723.

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