Early intervention is crucial and can make a world of difference in children's mental health care.

If spotted in time, by any one of the many adult figures mentioned throughout this series, professionals can essentially train the brain so young individuals have the ability to better cope with stresses or negative occurrences that may come their way in the near or distant future.

Getting a handle on more serious mental illnesses, such as psychosis and schizophrenia, may not be as simple to tackle from start to finish. But there are services and options in place for your child dealing with any segment of the mental health disorder spectrum.

This article is the fourth installment of a week-long series that examines children's mental health in New Jersey.

New Jersey 101.5 will hold a special town hall event on child mental health Thursday night at 7 p.m. Listen Live or join our Facebook Live simulcast at Facebook.com/NJ1015, with experts on social services and private care in the chat.  

If a parent doesn't consent, a child would not be forced to ingest medication in order to help subside their symptoms of mental illness. But the prescription options on the market are plentiful, and can typically accompany a treatment plan.

Betty Jean, senior coordinator of call center services for the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, said she understands parents' concerns about medication — side effects and perhaps a years- or decades-long journey on these drugs, for example — but it's being prescribed by a professional who wants their patients to live a healthy life and actually enjoy it in the process.

"Mental illness is like any other illness; it's a disease," she said. "Just like you can't just make hypertension go away, just like you can't just make cancer go away, you need medication."

Medication alone is not treatment, however. It may work alongside one-on-one or group therapy sessions, for example, to make the biggest impact on a child.

PerformCare, the state's system for assisting residents aged 5 to 21 with an emotional or serious mental health or behavioral need, can recommend services to concerned adults. Accessing the system is free (1-877-652-7624), and special consideration for services is given to children under 5 years old.

"Adolescents are still developing relative to adults," said Anthony Marino, Jr., chief of adolescent services at Hackensack Meridian Health Carrier Clinic. " So that has to be taken into account, what stage they're at, in order to formulate some treatment plan or what approach there is."

Carrier, a behavioral healthcare system located in Belle Mead, cares for adolescents in both a hospital setting on campus and a residential treatment facility. Individuals are typically sent to Carrier when it's been determined they're unable to care for themselves or they could be a danger to themselves or others.

"The inpatient unit is set up so that the bulk of the treatment is group therapies," Marino said. "There are discussions about feelings identification, working on coping skills."

The Carrier campus also houses a school for 7th to 12th graders, whose regular districts are footing the bill to get them the extra help and attention they may need.

East Mountain School (Carrier Clinic)
East Mountain School (Carrier Clinic)

"We meet the kids where they're at. When they come to us, there's going to be some kind of challenge that's blocking them from accessing the curriculum," said Dr. Stacey Paulis, principal and director of East Mountain School. "We do a lot of one-on-one attention, tailor-making the IEP (Individualized Education Program) to whatever they might need, working with the districts to actually get them back to their regular school district."

The school typically handles about 100 kids, Paulis said, with the help of 65 staff members.

"We have behavior management people who come in and work with the kids if they're having a moment in the classroom and need to step out, but then it's about rolling them back in," Paulis said. "In a regular school, you couldn't just do that one-on-one, triage it, manage it and then go back in."

Paulis said there's a constant effort to maintain the school as any other public school in the state. Students are offered a quick mindfulness session during 1st period, and the school offers a 30-day extended program so students don't lose the behavioral and academic gains they've made in the months prior.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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