May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, and Children's Place of Aiken is using this time to increase awareness of children's mental health in Aiken County.
Children's Place, a United Way of Aiken County agency, is a therapeutic and behavioral health childcare and family development center. The facility works to educate the community on the hazards of mental health and to treat children who have suffered mental trauma.
"At Children's Place, we see the effects of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) every day," said Community Outreach Director Lauren Molony in an email.
Mental health issues such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, depression and anxiety disorders affect over 40 million people in the United States, including children.
Molony said mental illness can be more widespread in children than some people realize. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five children ages 12-18 have a serious mental illness in the United States.
Mental illnesses, if left untreated in children, can have serious ramifications. About 37 percent of students with serious mental illness drop out of school – the highest dropout rate of any disability group – and up to 70 percent of youth in juvenile justice systems have some form of mental illness. Suicide is the third leading cause of death of people aged 10-24, and the overwhelming majority of suicide victims have mental illnesses.
Some mental health disorders are genetic, while others are brought on by trauma. Children who receive treatment at Children's Place sometimes come from physically or sexually abusive homes.
While some physical wounds can heal naturally, Molony and her coworkers focus on the far-reaching consequences the invisible scars of abuse can leave.
"Children are our future," Molony said. "If not addressed at a young age, the cycle of child abuse and neglect continues."
One of the treatment services Children's Place offers Aiken is a therapeutic childcare program, which serves children 18 months to five years old. Molony said Aiken is one of only two places in South Carolina were this type of program is offered.
Other resources, such as Mental Health America of Aiken County, are available to treat mental health in adults and families.