By Dr. Maria E. Minon
Earlier this month, Lisa Bartlett, chairwoman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, hosted a free community forum to discuss a critically important topic: the mental health and wellbeing of our county’s children.
I would like to commend Supervisor Bartlett and her co-sponsor, the Orange County Children’s Partnership, for bringing together physicians, educators, psychologists, community leaders and others to address the pressing mental health issues that affect far too many of our county’s youth.
In two recent reports, the 2018 Conditions of Children and the 2018 Community Indicators Reports, the numbers underscoring the urgent need to help our youth practically leapt off the page. A few examples:
- The hospitalization rate for major depression among children and youth in Orange County increased 117 percent between 2005 and 2014.
- A survey of Orange County high school students found that 23 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys reported they “seriously considered committing suicide” in the 12 months preceding the survey.
- Between 2007 and 2016, the number of Orange County youth suicides ranged from seven to 19 annually, or an average of 12 suicides each year.
- 17 percent of our county’s children have suffered two or more “adverse experiences” that can disrupt healthy development.
And while teens are a key focus of many experts’ efforts, it is my hope that the forum also serves as a catalyst for more discussion about — and ultimately community actions and solutions for — the mental health issues that impact young children, as young as four or five.
Did you know throughout our county, nearly 40 percent of preschools report they’ve had to expel at least one child as a last-straw resort to out-of-control behavioral issues, according to a recent study out of California State University, Fullerton?
This trend is a warning sign. Because if ignored or only partially addressed, these behaviors often lead to larger, more serious issues as children move into their teen years. Their actions can have long-lasting negative consequences, causing them to trail their peers in school and social development, and throwing them off the path to lifelong wellness and meeting their full potential.
Orange County pediatricians, child and adolescent psychiatrists, child psychologists, nurses, educators, elected officials and others are making significant strides to address this serious issue. Supervisor Bartlett’s recent community forum is an encouraging example of this commitment.
First 5 Orange County’s Children and Families Commission recognizes it is imperative to focus on mental health issues in children long before they reach their teen years. For Orange County to make a lasting difference in our children’s mental health, the sooner we start, the better. Beginning early provides benefits to both our children and to our society as a whole.
First 5 Orange County was one of a number of community partners who came together to help CHOC Children’s create a mental health inpatient center, which is dedicated to the treatment of children ages 3-17 with mental illness who are in immediate risk of hurting themselves or others.The first child to occupy one of those beds was under 7 years old.
Fortunately, awareness of the need to focus on our children’s mental health is growing — and community forums like the one Supervisor Bartlett hosted this month are critical.
Dr. Minon is Senior VP Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer for CHOC Children’s. She also serves as Chair of First 5 Orange County, Children and Families Commission.