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Carlos B. Lopez, Constable

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Bruce Elfant

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Constable's Notebook - August 2005

Children’s mental health is a serious issue for law enforcement because sizeable majorities of the populations in juvenile and adult correctional facilities are comprised of individuals with mental health issues that were undiagnosed or untreated. The Community Action Network has recently released an update on the state of children’s mental health in Travis County.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines mental health as being how we think, feel and act as we face life’s situations, how we look at ourselves, or lives ant the people in our lives and how we evaluate options and make choices. Like adults, children can have mental health disorders that intefere with the way they think, feel and act. Children’s mental health is determined by a cumulative interaction between, genetics, prenatal health, physiological development, enviornmental safety, economic, educational and social conditions and the cumulative experience of a child’s achievement. If undetected and untreated, these disorders can lead to school failure, family conflicts, substance abuse, violence or suicide.

The Travis County the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation estimates that 20% of the County’s under 18 population either has or is at risk of mental health disorders. The most common disorders diagnosed are anxiety (13% of children aged 9-17), major depression, (3-8% of children), Attention Deficit Disorder - ADD (3-7%) and learning disorders (2-8%).

Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death for children in America. Mental health diagnosies for chilldren in Travis County have increased slightly in the last three years but the U. S. Surgeon General predicts that “By 2020 disorders in children will swell by 50% compared with other health-related problems, making them one of the five leading causes of childhood illness, disability and death.”

Information regarding mental health services in Travis County can be obtained at 472-HELP (4357) or TTY: (512) 703-1395, or www.atcmhmr.com. The phone line is answered around the clock seven days a week. While Travis County is blessed with more mental health services than many communities, they are overburdened, underfunded and cannot be the total solution. The Capitol United Way offers opportunities to mentor children, be peer mentors for parents, sponsor treatment for children and become involved in volunteerism with children. They can be reached at www.unitedwaycapitalarea.org or 472-6267.

Copies of the Children’s Mental Health Report and other CAN publications can be obtained at www.caction.org or by calling 414-8203.

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