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Speak Up for Kids Campaign to Help Banish Stigma of Mental Health Care

The Speak Up for Kids campaign, started by the Child Mind Institute, aims to banish the persistent stigma around mental health care, especially among children. Here is how you can get involved in Speak Up for Kids.

Speak Up for Kids logoThe Child Mind Institute, the only independent, nonprofit organization in the country that’s exclusively dedicated to children’s mental health, launches its 2013 Speak Up for Kids campaign May 1. NYMetroParents spoke with Harold Koplewicz, M.D., president of the Child Mind Institute, to learn more about this year’s Speak Up for Kids campaign and how you can get involved.

What is the focus of this year’s Speak Up for Kids campaign?

Speak Up for KidsThere’s never been a more important time in our nation’s recent history to discuss child and adolescent mental health. The tragedy at Newtown, on top of what happened at Virginia Tech and in Aurora, CO, and our memories of Columbine, makes us recognize that school shootings are rare, but these mental health disorders are common, real, and treatable. More people need to recognize that the diseases above the neck are just as important as the diseases below the neck.

This year, more than ever, we’re focusing on promoting children’s mental health and trying to eliminate the barriers to mental health care. And one of the greatest of those barriers is stigma. If you developed a rash on your right forearm and it was very itchy, it would take two to three hours before you went to the drugstore for cortisone. If it bothered you two days later, you would reach out to your internist. If in two weeks it was still there, you would be in your dermatologist’s office.


• Lend your voice by taking the pledge, participating in streamed events, and hosting viewing parties at

• Share the campaign message on social media: #SpeakUpforKids.

Instead, it takes an average of 110 weeks after the onset of a child’s psychiatric symptoms before they get mental health care or consultation. On top of that, less than half of kids who have symptoms ever get any attention. We’re not talking about effective treatment—these kids don’t get any attention at all.

Why is it so critical to improve kids’ mental health care?

The most severe outcome is suicide. We will lose 5,000 young people between the ages of 14 to 24 this year. And this year, 600,000 young people will make a serious enough attempt to be sent to the emergency room. We get upset by this, but we just don’t treat it the same as physical illness. Seventy percent of all psychiatric problems appear before the age of 24. Fifty percent appear before the age of 14.

You get the most bang for your buck if you identify and treat these disorders when they are fresh—because if they’re left untreated, these kids will have high academic failure, drug problems, lots of school dropouts, they’re more likely to be bullied or be a bully, and they have more unemployment. So you can either pay now and pay less, or pay later and pay more.

How is the Speak Up for Kids campaign addressing this problem?

Last year we had 600 live events that engaged 200,000 people. We found that our most successful events were online. This year, we decided that children’s mental health deserves at least a month, and it will have a series of online marquee events held on a micro-website people can go to 24/7 for the full 31 days.

We’ll have live-streamed talks and roundtable discussions by mental health leaders of the nation as well as regular parents telling their stories about how real, common, and treatable these disorders are.

We’ll also have written pieces and tools like our symptom checker. So if parents are worried, they can answer a few questions and get possible diagnoses, plus a guide to places where they can get more information and help.

How can parents get involved in the Speak Up for Kids campaign?

We’re always looking for people who care about this to help spread the word. They can tweet and post to Facebook, and they can help organize for us. We also have toolkits for parents to host viewing parties. The only way we can get rid of the stigma of child psychiatric disorders is if people are willing to speak up and say ‘I care about it, I know it’s real.’

We’re trying to start a drumbeat. If this nation could tackle AIDS and men can talk about testicular cancer and women can talk about breast cancer, then we think everyone who cares about children’s mental health can speak up, too. This is the moment to make sure that stigma and shame do not create barriers to children’s mental health care.

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Kaitlin Ahern

Author: Kaitlin Ahern has a degree in magazine journalism from Syracuse University. See More

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