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NAMI Fact Sheet: After the Newtown Tragedy, Parents are Asking What to Do When a Child Has a Mental Illness

ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 20, 2012 -- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released a new fact sheet, What Families Can Do When a Child May Have a Mental Illness.

The information comes almost a week since 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., by a 20-year-old man believed to have lived with a form of mental illness since childhood.

On Dec. 14, NAMI released trauma resources for parents and caregivers around the country whose children have been affected by the tragedy.

This new fact sheet comes in response to requests since then from news media and parents wanting to know more about early warning signs and treatment for mental illness in children.

"Mental illness exists in every state, city and neighborhood In the United States," said NAMI Executive Director Michael Fitzpatrick. "One in four adults experiences a mental health problem in any given year. That’s nearly 60 million Americans."

"One in 10 children lives with a serious mental or emotional disorder. Yet less than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosed disorder receive mental health care."

What Families Can Do lists warning signs every parent should know.

Acting withdrawn, sad or overly anxious.

  • Extreme difficulty interacting with friends and/or sibling.
  • Substantial mood swings.
  • Persistent drop in school performance.
  • Change in sleeping and/or eating patterns.
  • Increased or persistent use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Persistent aggressive behavior.
  • Threats to self or others.
  • Hallucinations, paranoia or delusion.
  • Other sudden or extreme change.

If a mental health problem is suspected:

  • Talk with a pediatrician.
  • Get a referral to a mental health specialist.
  • Work with the school.
  • Connect with other families who have or are experiencing similar challenges.

"Mental illness can be treated successfully," said Fitzpatrick. "The first step is to get professional evaluation and if appropriate a diagnosis. Parents can then work to get the most effective treatment, supports and services available."

About NAMI

NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raising awareness and building a community of hope.

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