There is a resounding consensus among politicians and citizens that Iowa children need better access to mental health care. The discussion now must turn from “if” to “how?”
All six Democrats running for governor said mental health is a top priority during their meetings with The Gazette editorial board in recent weeks. Likewise, Gov. Kim Reynolds and legislators from all corners of the state say it’s a pressing concern.
Yet beyond some calls for more funding, we see few concrete proposals being offered up by our politicians. It is doubtful effective solutions will be invented in the halls of the Statehouse. Instead, the best answers to our mental health crisis will come from those who are already doing the work.
That’s why we were cautiously encouraged earlier this year when Reynolds signed an executive order creating a Children’s Mental Health Board. She said at the time, “The lack of a coordinated children’s mental health system is a significant gap.”
Such a board was one of the recommendations from a separate Children’s Mental Health and Well-being Advisory Committee, which convened in 2015. That group noted in its findings published earlier this year Iowa has no cohesive children’s mental health system, forcing families to rely on “fragmented” and “disconnected” services.
The leaders at Tanager Place in Cedar Rapids are prime examples of the experts state officials should be seeking input from as they fill seats on the new Children’s Mental Health Board. The organization serves nearly 5,000 local children throughout its programs, and emphasizes a comprehensive approach to families’ needs.
In observance of Mental Health Month this May, consider half of all cases of mental illness begin by age 14, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Sadly, it takes an average of 8 to 10 years from the time symptoms emerge before children receive mental health treatment.
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As a result of that and other factors, suicide is the third most common cause of death for Americans age 10 to 24. To save lives, it’s imperative to identify mental illness early, and to reduce barriers to treatment.
Tanager Place’s school therapy program is doing exactly that. The program currently serves students in four public school districts and one private school in Johnson and Linn Counties. Organizers say they are encouraged by the results and hope to expand to more schools.
That’s just one example of the innovating solutions in place at the local level throughout the state. Now Iowa must channel its local expertise into sustainable statewide solutions to serve all Iowa children.
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