May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Each week, KLCC addresses a topic surrounding mental health from a local perspective. This week, we’re talking about the mental health of children in Lane County.
Ellen Thorton-Love is a licensed clinical social worker and supervisor for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Program at Lane County Behavioral Health.
She and her staff serve youth ages 0 to 21.
Along a wall in her office are boxes of stuffed toys, puppets and art supplies. Thorton-Love is trained in “play therapy” and she uses these items to do trauma work with children.
“Little kids can’t always tell you ‘this is the scary thing that happened to me,’” she says, “so they’ll kind of act it out.”
Thorton-Love says adolescent mental health issues run the gamut. Maybe a child has witnessed or experienced abuse.
“They may not meet the criteria of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder but they’re symptoms are reflective of someone who’s experienced trauma,” says Thorton-Love. “So children will act out. Sometimes you’ll see regression in behavior. A child that was fully not wetting the bed might start wetting the bed. Might have problems with eating. Maybe having anger outbursts. Sometimes they become selectively mute. They won’t talk.”
At any given time, the Child and Adolescent program treats around 450 children and families. Thorton-Love’s team is made up of early childhood mental health specialists, art therapists, and clinicians who specialize in treating kids with autism, psychosis, bi-polar disorder.
“Really severe anxiety and depression seem to be the biggest things that youth are truly struggling with right now in our community,” Thorton-Love says. “They’re scared about things that they’ve seen happen at other schools like school shootings. They’re scared about their futures.”
For some children, a mental health issue is just part of what needs to be addressed. Perhaps it’s homelessness or living with a mentally ill parent. Thorton-Love says the name of the game is support.
Next week, we’ll hear from the Division Manager of Lane County Behavioral Health—on decriminalizing mental illness, working with law enforcement and the role of a caring community.