Early diagnosis important for kids with mental illness

April 11, 2012 10:21:22 AM PDT
One in five kids suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, with only about 20% of those getting help. That's why early intervention is so important to keeping kids on a healthy track.

Kyle Gatewood, 12, is diagnosed with eight mental health disorders from ADHD to OCD.

"We're pretty sure at some point there will be a diagnosis of bipolar disease as well," said Kiva Gatewood, Kyle's mother.

Kyle's one of 12 million kids in the US with mental illness. Doctor Bela Sood says parents often have a hard time determining if their child's behavior is normal or something more serious.

"Unfortunately only 20% of them are recognized as having a mental health problem," said Sood, MD, Professor and Chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the VCU School of Medicine.

She suggests knowing your child's developmental milestones. They should smile by two months, speak first words by a year and walk alone at 18 months. They should also be able to emotionally connect to adults by their first birthday and play with other kids by three years old. If not, there could be a problem. Aggression is also a clue.

"If that aggressive behavior continues on and it does not abate, then you really need to sit up and pay attention," said Sood, MD.

44% of mentally ill kids drop out of school. 70% in the juvenile justice system have mental health issues. The signs came early for Kyle. By the time he was two, he was so aggressive, he'd been kicked out of six daycares. That's when his mom first got help.

"He would probably be in a locked facility permanently," said Gatewood, when asked what she thinks would have happened if she had not gotten help.

Now, he's getting the help he needs here at home.

It's interesting to note that Kyle was adopted as a baby. For more warning signs on childhood mental illness, contact your local chapter of the National Institute of Mental Illness (NAMI) .