Boston's families have new tools to deal with mental illness and stress in children, thanks in part to new federal grants. There are numerous mental health resources and services available in Boston, but the first line of prevention is the family's pediatrician, said Debby Allen, Boston Public Health Commission's Director of the Bureau of Child, Adolescent and Family Health.
One new program is Project Launch, which is targeted to help very young children, who don’t have serious manifestations of serious illnesses, but are acting up, or in life situations such as being homeless, or instability, such as a having mother suffering from depression.
These programs are available at three Boston sites, and employ early childhood clinicians: Boston Medical Center Pediatric Department in the South End; Martha Eliot Health Center in Jamaica Plain; and the Codman Square Health Center in Dorchester. These sites also employ a family partner to work with families to help avert mental illnesses with kids who are infants to 8-years-old.
The second program, MYCHILD is geared toward children ages 0-6 in risk of serious disorders.
"These kids are showing more serious manifestations from a range of being very explosive, to a kid who bites other children, terrorizes a pet, or is very, very withdrawn and beyond shy," said Allen.
This program is available at: Joseph Smith Community Health Center (Allston); Dorchester House Community Health Center (Dorchester); Bowdoin St. Community Health Center (Dorchester); Boston Health Care for the Homeless (shelters citywide).
Beyond these programs and others, a consult with the family physician should be the first stop for concerned parents.
"Virtually all children are insured (in Massachusetts), so get regular visits," said Allen.
"That system (of primary care) helps catch kids early to do some prevention. The kid may have the condition, maybe a life-long condition, and early intervention really makes a huge, huge difference because you can shape the child’s behavior instead of getting into patterns that isolate them the rest of their life," said Allen. "Mental health problems, once (an individual is) engaging in those behaviors they get reenforced, like if a kid acts out and people get angry. It’s behavioral immaturity, rather then being bad or naughty. Being punitive often makes it worse. Early intervention is really key."
Allen added when working with children, pay attention to the words you use.
"Using the term 'stress' is better than 'mental health,'" she said.
Please call 911 for emergency services, and also contact your physician to make them aware of the situation. For immediate trauma support there are several options, you can contact the Boston Public Health Commission through the Mayor’s Health Line at 617-534-5050.
There are also school-based health centers — but these are closed for the summer and will reopen in the fall.