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First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross

Children's Mental Health The Focus Of Federally Funded 'System Of Care' Initiative

dierk schaefer

There is growing local concern for a public health issue that some may not realize affects not only those suffering directly, but the entire country.

Gaps in the system of care for patients dealing with mental health problems are a major issue here on the First Coast.

Mental health treatment is woefully underfunded, awareness is lacking, and patients are suffering.

This year, the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. (JCCI) is leading a major study on the issue. The city’s Women’s Giving Alliance is also putting its talents and financial resources towards better funding and treatment of mental disorders.

Dr. Gary Blau, a clinical psychologist and chief of the Child, Adolescent and Family Branch at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, and Vicki Waytowich, Ed.D, director of the Jacksonville System of Care Initiative, joined Melissa Ross for an in-dept look at mental health on the First Coast.

Blau is the featured speaker at a Women's Giving Alliance event today where he will be discussing children's mental health.

"At any given time, an estimated 20 percent of children or adolescents will have a diagnosable mental or emotional or behavioral health type of a disorder, and it's incredibly costly to the public," he said, noting estimates that addressing these issues costs the country $247 billion annually.

Blau said his agency has put considerable federal resources into establishing "Systems of Care" across the country to serve children with mental health challenges.

Jacksonville received a grant to establish the Jacksonville System of Care Initiative in 2010.

"The past three years we've really been bringing together families and youth and the community stakeholders to really look at the system, identify the gaps, and be able to figure out how can we transform the system to ensure that all our families receive the services that they need by increasing access and reducing the barriers to care, bur also providing services in a family driven, youth guided and culturally responsive way," said Waytowich.

Waytowich said the initiative has been very successful working with care providers, philanthropists, and Duval County Public Schools. Among the programs they have started are organizing support teams around families with children who have severe mental health issues, and training physicians to identify depression in children.

"We have a very vibrant youth council, and we're bringing youth to the table in all areas that we're working in," she said.

"Jacksonville is not that terribly different than many other metropolitan areas in terms of where we have to be moving forward," Blau said when asked about the challenges the city faces in addressing mental health.

"We have to be looking at providing a lot more education," he said. "Making people more aware of the critical importance of children mental health."

"As we do that it can help reduce the prejudice that people seem to have for that," he said, adding that, based on previously mentioned statistics, a classroom of 30 children could have six students who are really struggling.

Blau cited a study from the National Institute of Mental Health that showed about 50 percent of adult mental illness can be traced to the age of 14 and 75 percent to the age of 24.

"We really need to be addressing these issues early, focusing on ways in which people can feel more comfortable with identifying and receiving services," he said.

Waytowich said one focus of the initiative is asking those in the community who are directly affected what they think can be done to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.