Investing in Children's Mental Health

Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust

A $50,000 grant awarded by the Elizabeth Morse GeniusCharitable Trust is funding Saturday clinics with free screenings and risk assessments for the most prevalent children’s mental health disorders, allowing the Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health to screen at least 75 more children and to provide counseling to an additional 125 children and families.

“Early intervention is often the key to prevention and treatment of childhood mental health issues,” says Barb Howard, LCPC, outpatient team leader for the Center for Mental Health. “The sooner we can intervene and provide education, treatment and support to the child and the family, the better the chance of keeping the child on a healthy trajectory in their life.”

Despite the growing need for mental health services and support tailored to this particularly vulnerable population, cost and a lack of providers inhibit access to treatment. In any given year, up to 20 percent of children will experience a mental health disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From 2007 to 2010, hospital stays for children with mood disorders surged 80 percent. And in 2010, suicide was the second leading cause of death among children ages10 to 17.

In our own community, the Center for Mental Health served 636 children and adolescents last year—70 percent of them living at or below the federal poverty level. Still, every month, an average of 70 children and families cannot be seen by Center therapists due to a lack of funding and resources. The wait list for counseling services for this vulnerable population has doubled in five years.

“We work daily with children with depression, anxiety, anger issues, academic problems and family conflict. In adolescents, we are always working to stop substance abuse, self-injury and eating disorders, as well as depression, anxiety and peer issues,” Howard says. “We are so grateful for this grant, which will allow us to help many more children and families in need who might otherwise be waiting for a long time for services.”

Established in 1992, the Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust supports efforts to improve the physical and emotional well-being of children, as well as a wide range of projects including disease-specific research and services for older adults.

Thanks to the generosity of this new funder, the Center will be able to hire three part-time therapists who will provide counseling in the evenings and on weekends—at times most convenient to children and their families. Saturday clinics will screen for such mental health problems as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Through these screenings and services, the program aims to help at least 70 percent of those who engage in treatment to see a moderate to high improvement in overall functioning. In the short term, this will increase school attendance and success, and decrease criminal involvement and the need for more serious interventions, such as psychiatric hospitalization—ultimately translating to a safer, healthier community.

Please contact Mary Usdrowski at 847-952-7460, ext. 7010 to learn more or to schedule an appointment. Walk-ins are welcome: Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 12 noon at Alexian Brothers Center for Mental Health, 3436 N. Kennicott Avenue, Arlington Heights.