In part five of our series "NJ Children Confronting Mental Illness," we focus on how parents can help their children deal with mental health, and get the help they need.

Mental Illness
Flickr User D. Sharon Pruitt (Pink Sherbert Photography)

Garden State children are facing an increasing number of mental health challenges, but many of them aren't getting the treatment they need because of parental embarrassment issues, and a lack of coverage by their family's insurance.

"Children need to be proactive and speak up about the problems they may be dealing with, and also help friends who are struggling with mental health issues, while parents must not hesitate to take action if they suspect something is wrong," said Shauna Moses, associate executive director of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA).

Moses said even though the family doctor may not be a mental health specialist, "they should have enough of a basic knowledge to do an initial assessment and refer to a specialist as needed."

Experts say parents should take their child to the doctor when they notice a profound change in their child's behavior because there's a good chance that "something is amiss and they should definitely take their child to a doctor or to a social worker or a licensed practitioner for an assessment," said Debra Wentz,chief executive officer of NJAMHAA.

She said while a lot of progress has been made over the past 20 years, "like the lepers and people with cancer in the past, often people who have mental health disorders do face stigma.  What people realize more and more, is that mental illness happens to every family and it happens in every community - as people become more knowledgeable and are not stigmatized, that's going to help people to get a lot of progress."

New Jersey Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, who is working on a bill to expand coverage for mental health issues, said if kids don't get the help they need, "their problems, through embarrassment or otherwise, get compounded and they feel like they're outcasts, and they never treat the underlying disorder."

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