Raising Awareness about Childhood Trauma & Mental Health

Logo for National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, May 9, 2012, includes the outline of three children standing with arms raised in front of a shining sun. SAMSHA logo is also included.In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month and National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day on May 9th, we’re pleased to share the following guest blog by Lisa Rubenstein, Project Officer at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Do you know someone who has experienced childhood trauma? Chances are, you do.

Research has found that more than 25 percent of American youth experience a serious traumatic event by the age of 16, and many children suffer multiple and repeated traumas. These traumas can be the result of a one-time incident such as a family member’s death or a natural disaster, or an ongoing issue such as bullying and family neglect.

Because children, particularly those in elementary school and younger, are still developing their cognitive, reasoning, and socialization skills, they often need help understanding and coping with the experience. Without that needed support, these children will have greater difficulty with learning, problem solving, and getting along with others—problems that will only grow in scope and complexity as they reach adulthood.

Left untreated, childhood trauma has tremendous economic consequences as well. In 2010 dollars, the estimated average lifetime cost per victim of child maltreatment is $210,012, including childhood and adult health care costs, lost productivity, child welfare, and law enforcement. In the workplace, residual effects of untreated trauma can translate into conflict with colleagues, frequent absenteeism, substance abuse, and financial problems, all of which can have significant impacts on the individual’s ability to make a living and take a toll on an organization’s efficiency, performance, and even safety.

For all of these reasons, childhood trauma’s total burden to society is nearly immeasurable. There is much that can be done to help children enhance the resilience necessary to mitigate its immediate effects, and avoid its long-term consequences.

One important resource for children or youth who have experienced trauma is the opportunity to connect with an adult who offers a long-term, stable, and positive influence. These adults—Heroes of Hope—will be celebrated on Wednesday, May 9, as part of the seventh annual National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day (Awareness Day).

Awareness Day is a strategy of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Caring for Every Child’s Mental Health Campaign. At the community level, Awareness Day will be celebrated in more than 1,100 communities around the country. Many of these events will take the form of Community Conversations, a SAMHSA pilot designed to reach adults for whom children’s mental health is a new issue and urge them to pledge to become Heroes of Hope to children and youth.

At the national event at George Washington University in Washington, DC, youth from throughout the country will tell their stories of trauma and resilience and pay tribute to their personal Heroes of Hope. U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius will present singer/songwriter Cyndi Lauper an award for her work as a Hero of Hope to homeless and LGBT youth.

If you are in Washington, DC, and would like to attend the Awareness Day national event, you can register at http://awarenessevent.org/. If you are not in Washington, learn about how you can become a Hero of Hope to a young person by visiting www.samhsa.gov/children.

Youth in your community can get involved in Awareness Day 2012 by joining the Heroes of Hope Flickr Challenge by uploading a photo of their hero to Flickr.com Exit Disclaimer using the tag “Heroes of Hope.” The top photos will be linked to from SAMHSA’s Awareness Day Web page, www.samhsa.gov/children, starting in June. Find more instructions online.

Mental Health America offers two toolkits others can use during Mental Health Awareness month: Do More For 1 in 4 Toolkit and Healing Trauma’s Invisible Wounds Toolkit.

The following publications provide guidance and strategies related to helping youth with mental health needs transition to adulthood and employment:

Also see NCWD/Youth’s previous blog series on identifying and assisting youth with mental health needs.

About NCWD Youth

NCWD/Youth works to ensure that transition age youth are provided full access to high quality services in integrated settings to gain education, employment, and independent living.
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