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Mel Gravely

Bringing Focus to Children’s Mental Health in Head Start

Canton, Ohio-based attorney Corey Minor Smith is a long-time client, associate, and friend of The Gravely Group. She is a former Head Start parent and Board Member, speaker, and mental health advocate. She has recently written her debut book, titled #Driven, a resource for family and friends that care for a loved one living with mental illness.

Ms. Minor Smith understands that mental health isn’t always one of the first things we think about when serving preschool aged children. That’s why she’s using her voice to get information out there on this often-forgotten issue.

To bring focus on this topic, she wrote the following blog for us to share:

What’s better than free educational opportunities with Head Start preschool programs across the country? Research has shown that Head Start preschool and Early Head Start locations can provide children with educational benefits. One of the benefits of Head Start programming is health assessments. With early screening and detection, children and their families can address issues before the child starts school.

There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness and some of the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders, according to Mental Health America, the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness. One in five children has a diagnosable mental health problem, nearly two-thirds of them get little or no help.

Unfortunately, children are mislabeled which in effect provides the opportunity for school districts to receive additional funds for services. It is great for those who need the services, but as a parent you want to be actively engaged in the process and have not only the school’s assessment, but that of your child’s pediatrician and/or specialist. The Mayo Clinic states that, “Children can develop all of the same mental health conditions as adults, but sometimes express them differently. For example, depressed children will often show more irritability than depressed adults, who more typically show sadness.”

According to the National Head Start Children that participate in Head Start programs receive innumerable benefits. These advantages appear immediately, last a lifetime, and even have an effect on other generations. Being at the forefront of childhood development, Head Start programming is in a prime position to be a resource for mental health services for children and their families. As a parent, you do not have to solely rely on outside sources. Here is what you can do:

  1. Research – don’t just rely on what others tell you about your child. With the vast resources readily available at your fingers, you can search the world wide web for reliable sources of information. If you don’t know of any resources and/or referrals, ask a pediatrician and/or school psychologist.
  2. Observe your child in different social interactions and listen to what others say about your child after play dates, sleep-overs and other extracurricular activities. Observing your child in regular childhood activities can tell a lot.
  3. Be an advocate – The first step to becoming an advocate for a child who may be struggling with a mental health concern is to become educated about the subject and talk to others on behalf of your child. Adult support, love and care are instrumental in helping your child address mental health concerns.

If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, consult your child’s doctor. Describe the behavior that concerns you. Consider talking to your child’s teacher, close friends, loved ones, and/or other caregivers to see if they’ve noticed any changes in your child’s behavior. Share this information with your child’s doctor, too. Work with the school staff to develop an academic plan that meets your child’s needs. It’s ok to ask questions. It’s ok to be directly involved in the process. Your child does not have to have a mental illness for you to be proactive about her/his mental health. It’s ok to talk about it.

For more information on resources that may be available in your community, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness at NAMI,org.

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