In part one of a five-part series titled, "NJ Kids Confronting Mental Illness," we examine the situation of why a growing number of our children are being diagnosed with mental health conditions.

NJAMHAA CEO Debra Wentz (Photo by David Matthau, Townsquare Media)
NJAMHAA CEO Debra Wentz (Photo by David Matthau, Townsquare Media)

With more and more kids in New Jersey and across the country getting treatment for mental health issues these days, many parents are wondering why this is happening.

Some argue this is a sign of the times, and parents along with doctors are simply too eager to find something wrong with kids, and label them as having some kind of condition, but the experts disagree.

"Nowadays, especially for kids in middle and high school, there is more stress and pressure than when I remember I was in that age group years and years ago, " says the Associate Executive Director of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Shauna Moses.

NJAMHAA CEO Debra Wentz points out "we have incidents like the Newtown shooting, the shootings in Aurora, Coloarado, the Boston Marathon bombing. We're bombarded with these stories and images and they create a lot of anxiety and fear in kids."

She also points out since the Great Recession more kids find themselves in families where the parents are unemployed, military families have had multiple deployment scenarios, so children are left without a parent or both parents, and kids are starting to experiment with drugs at an earlier age.

"The world has become a scary and traumatic place," Wentz says. "Kids today are faced with more and more decisions that they're not always equipped to handle."

"There is also an increased awareness of mental illness problems among kids," Moses said. "There's still for the most part a lack of education, I think it's getting better, but we still have a far way to go."

In addition she says unusual weather events, like the recent hurricanes Irene and Sandy, cause trauma for some youngsters, and when you put it all together, "in today's world kids have many reasons to be stressed or depressed or anxious about something, and they need to be taken seriously."

Tomorrow, we look at the most common conditions in children, and how parents can recognize them.

More From New Jersey 101.5 FM