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In Nevada, mental health crisis among children merits a closer look

In Nevada, mental health crisis among children merits a closer look

Picture of Jackie Valley
Mental health care for children has been less than fabulous.
Mental health care for children in the region has been less than fabulous.

If you need mental health care in Southern Nevada, get in line.

Waiting lists to see a psychiatrist or psychologist stretch into the months, and residential treatment centers fill up fast. Hospital emergency rooms pick up the slack, providing bed space for the mentally ill who have no other place to turn. Others wind up in the Clark County Detention Center, the de facto institution for adults with mental illnesses who find themselves on the other side of the law.

Last year, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval directed $3.5 million in emergency funding to increase services for the mentally ill in Las Vegas. A legislative committee approved the request, but lawmakers cautioned that much more would be needed. The money was at least an acknowledgment that mental health care in Nevada — and Las Vegas, in particular — is a problem.

And among the mentally ill youth, it’s a mess. Mental Health America reported this year that Nevada ranked last  — No. 51 among all states and the District of Columbia — in the youth category, which indicates the Silver State has one of the highest rates of mental illness among children and one of the lowest rates of access to care.

This vulnerable young population will be the focus of my National Health Journalism Fellowship project as I explore what constitutes mental illness among children, how they are being treated and what more needs to be done. This isn’t a problem solely for the families with a child suffering from mental health issues. The challenges create a ripple effect in the community, with obvious future implications if the children grow into adulthood without proper care and treatment.

I will introduce readers to parents, doctors, teachers, judges and social workers whose lives are touched by these children every day. Through their stories of successes and failures, we hope to awaken the community’s consciousness about mental illness among children.

Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, we will take extra precautions when reporting and sharing personal stories. We will protect the children while exposing this quiet health crisis in Southern Nevada.

[Photo by Marco Verch via Flickr.]

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