Richson: Treat illness early


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Anyone who has baby-sat younger children for an extended period of time knows it can be exhausting to the point where you want to pass out, too, once you’ve read them the same book five times and turned off the lights.

Now, imagine being in charge of the mental well-being of hundreds of children. The American Counseling Association states the maximum recommended ratio of students to school counselors at 250 to 1.

Iowa’s average ratio? 428 students to 1 counselor.

The Iowa Parent Teachers’ Association convened on March 2 to discuss mental-health issues among children in Linn County. Statistics presented showed that fewer than half of children with mental issues would receive critical early treatment.

Iowa PTA President Karen Rowan attributed the poor treatment to both a lack of awareness and a lack of adequate funding for schools.

“People just don’t realize that there is an issue,” Rowan said.

Early treatment for children affected by mental illness is more than just a temporary Band-Aid on a swelling problem; early treatment leads to long-term development and mainstream success within schools.  

“When a child misbehaves, we often ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ” said Rowan, noting that it is educators’ duty to get to the root of the issue and thus pass awareness on to fellow educators and affected families.

But, again, awareness and education about mental issues might not be enough when it boils down to the sheer numbers of students school counselors are responsible for — in which case, responsibility falls on the families of affected children.

If they don’t have the money to provide private treatment and support in addition to what schools can offer, the cycle continues.

And if families aren’t aware that a child has a mental issue, mistaking it instead for a generic discipline problem, the issue festers and carries on into adulthood.

Properly educating families and faculty across the board will undoubtedly take time and money. But so does treating an adult in a rampantly declining mental condition.

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