Children’s mental health: Always more complicated

5/30/2018, 6 a.m.
Thetimesweekly.com A sit-down with two experts from the Will County Health Department’s Behavioral Health Division can make you stop and ...


A sit-down with two experts from the Will County Health Department’s Behavioral Health Division can make you stop and think. And more than anything, make you hope for a better future.

Licensed Psychologist and Registered Nurse Dr. Rita Gray, Director of Clinical Training for WCHD Behavioral Health, says it must be understood how what happens now can affect the future. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) are not something to always be dismissed as “something kids will get over because they are resilient.” First, all human beings have different levels of resiliency. Second, as Dr. Gray points out, “ACES are incidents than can change the neuro-pathways in your brain. And those changes cannot just be immediately ‘put back’ to where they were before.”

These ACES incidents can be anything from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; neglect; witnessing domestic violence and drug use; having a household member (often these days from an extended family) incarcerated, and so much more. Dr. Gray says that if undiagnosed or untreated, these ACES can lead to adults with a “low life potential;” with difficulties such as lower academic achievement, lower economic success, and relationship problems.

Recent Will County Health statistics released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that despite Will County’s placement as ninth in the state in “health outcomes” and 23rd in the state in “health factors,” there are some “factors” contributing to ACES that definitely need work.

Those Will County numbers showed 10% of children living in poverty. Statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) show that proximity to the poverty level is very important. While 46% of U.S. youth under 18 have at least one ACE, that figure jumps up to 62% for households living at up to 200% of the poverty line.

The Will County numbers also showed 23% of Will County children living in single parent households. Michele Zambrano, Manager of Child and Adolescent Services for WCHD Behavioral Health, says this can be a definite factor when it comes to inability or lack of time to deal with ACES that occur at school. She says single parents may not have time to sit down and really comprehend a problem their children might be having at school. “They might say, ‘you don’t need to be bothering the counselor,’ school is for education not problem solving.’ We often find ourselves treating school children where we say, ‘It’s not that your parent or parents don’t love you, it’s just that THEY DON’T KNOW.’”

And what is it that today’s busy parents often “don’t know?” Zambrano and Dr. Gray both say it often goes back to the constant technological changes that are almost impossible to keep track of. “Years ago,” Zambrano pointed out, “if you were having trouble at school, you could escape at home. But now, ‘the Boogyman’ isn’t just ‘out there,’ he’s ‘everywhere.’ The kids simply cannot avoid the social media world. Even if someone is not on his or her mobile device, someone else could be sharing a negative rumor or picture about them, and they will certainly hear about it later.”