Focus on mental health care after Connecticut shooting

December 18, 2012 (CHICAGO)

At one Chicago facility, phone calls have increased since the shooting from parents looking for help for their children. In recent days, more parents have called on the Erikson Institute for help with their child's potential developmental or mental health issues.

"They have more concerns about their children's safety, but also about the larger issue of mental health support in our society," said Erikson Institute's Dr. Margret Nickels.

Dr. Nickels is the director of Erikson's Center for Children and Families. She says the violence at a Connecticut school has some local parents looking for ways to spot potential problems in their children.

Dr. Nickels says changes in behavior -- like extreme aggression, shyness, impatience or clinginess -- that last for more than a few weeks is a signal to call on a professional.

"You cannot clearly explain what precipitated the child's change in behavior," Nickels said.

AT UIC's Institute for Juvenile Research, Dr. Carl Bell says it is critical to offer a young person a way to deal with hurt feelings that can prevent acting out in anger.

"You talk with them, you model for them when you are hurt or you are mad, you don't take your anger out based on your hurt, but you address your hurt," Bell said.

While there are still many details unanswered about the young man who committed the murders before killing himself in Connecticut, Dr. Bell says children with developmental or mental health issues need more even support.

"Let's welcome them, even though they make us a little nervous, even though they don't quite fit in," said Bell, "and let's make sure they've got social emotion skills."

Both of the professionals ABC7 spoke with Tuesday say there are often signs of potentials problems before a child is 7. The good news is, they say, protective factors and a circle of support around the child can allow that child to reach his or her full potential.

Parents with concerns are encouraged to reach out for help to a pediatrician, a school counselor or another professional.

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