By Robert Cyr
More than one-third of children treated for mental health problems in Connecticut are Latino, a percentage rate that’s disproportionate to their population size, according to state child welfare representatives.
Last year, 33,349 children were treated by the state Department of Children and Families, with 11,996 children, or 36 percent, identifying as Hispanic or Latino, according to Marilyn E. Cloud, the Behavioral Health Program manager at DCF. “This is probably an underestimate, as it is self-reported – and there are a number of cases where race or ethnicity is not reported or is unavailable,” she said via email.
According to 2011 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos are the largest minority group in Connecticut, making up 13.8 percent of the state’s 3.58 million people. A specific problem arises with the “Latino” label because it does not specify a single ethnicity and can include several, said Gary Kleeblatt, a DCF spokesman.
“The fact that kids are getting treated is a good thing – if they weren’t that would be troubling. But there’s always under-reporting,” he said. “Latinos are very clearly over-represented in our data, and that’s a real concern.”
One possible treatment option for the problem might be school-based health centers. There are 75 state-funded School-Based Health Centers in 19 communities in Connecticut.
The Connecticut Association of School-Based Health Centers found after an 18-month study that Latinos and other teens of color tended to drop out of community-based health treatment after only one or two visits, but when the same services were offered at school, they usually stayed on for at least a dozen counseling sessions. “Young men of color rarely receive mental health services through the traditional systems. And it’s been documented repeatedly in our juvenile justice system, two-thirds of the young men have mental health issues. We would suggest, then they need help,” said Patricia Baker, president and CEO of the Connecticut Health Foundation.
Latino children are at higher risk for mental health problems than white youth due to higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide attempts, according to a report from the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Children’s mental health issues can include feeling overwhelmed, slighted by others, or grieving from a loss, according to DCF.
DCF and the Child Health and Development Institute (CHDI) of Connecticut joined together last month to teach parents how to recognize when their child may need help and how to find it, with a series of articles on their respective websites and Facebook and Twitter pages drawn from KidsMentalHealthInfo.com, a separate site created by the Connecticut Center for Effective Practices at CHDI.
Here is a list of questions, via KidsMentalHealthInfo.com that parents should answer to see if their children might need further help:
- Are my child’s difficulties interfering with his or her ability to function normally in every day life?
- Is your child having difficulty at home, in school, interpersonally or within the family?
- Are your child’s difficulties affecting their ability to eat or sleep?
- Are they having a hard time in situations where they used to be okay?
- Are these problems significant enough that are causing your child or other family members distress?
If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, the website advises that it might be a good idea to seek help from a qualified professional.
Dr. Bob Franks, CHDI Vice President and creator of the KidsMentalHealthInfo.com website, said that “anxiety and depression are common children’s mental health issues and can be made worse by stress and transitions, such as start of a new school year. If the problem lasts more than two weeks and impairs your child’s ability to function, you should seek help.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 1999 report, Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, estimates that at least 20 percent of children have a mental health disorder at some point from childhood to adolescence.
Of all ethnic groups in the United States, Hispanic Americans are the least likely of all Americans to have health insurance with a 37 percent rate of uninsurance. Rates are lowest for Hispanic immigrants born in Mexico or living in Puerto Rico, compared to Latinos born in the United States.
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