In recent years, further research into mental health and the continued efforts to destigmatize mental illness have contributed to an increase in access to resources for mental health information and treatments.
These resources become increasingly important in providing children with mental and behavioral illnesses with the services they need to thrive, as these illnesses are developing earlier and at increasing rates in children.
More Diagnoses Each Year
Mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders in children begin developing in the early years of childhood. One in six children from ages 2 to 8 years old are diagnosed with a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder in the United States.1 Additionally, illnesses such as depression and anxiety have increased over time.
Among children ages 6-17, those diagnosed with both depression and anxiety have increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011-12.In that same age group, children diagnosed with anxiety has increased from 5.5% in 2007 to 6.4% in 2011-12, and children diagnosed with depression has increased from 4.7% in 2007 to 4.9% in 2011-12. Illnesses such as depression and anxiety are increasingly more common as children reach their teens, and behavior disorders are most common in children ages 6-11.2
Because of these statistics, there is a demonstrated need for access to mental health resources. Children of all ages experience struggles with a variety of mental illnesses, and should have treatment to cope and recover from these illnesses. Access to mental health resources is extremely important in helping children to manage their mental illnesses and maintain a healthy childhood.
Alyssa Paulus, Marquette 2022, is a staff attorney working on children's court matters with the guardian ad litem division of Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee./p>
Chapter 51 and Children with Mental Illness
Under Wis. Stat. section 48.135, if children that are alleged to be in need of protection or services before the court and appear to be mentally ill, the court may proceed with the child under Wis. Stat. chapter 51.3
Chapter 51 covers issues of mental illness and provides policies for the state to provide a full range of treatment and rehabilitation services for all mental disorders and illnesses. It provides that the least restrictive treatments be provided for those in need. Additionally, chapter 51 provides for the Office of Children’s Mental Health, which “stud[ies] and recommend[s] ways, and coordinate[s] initiatives, to improve the integration across state agencies of mental health services provided to children and monitor[s] the performance of programs that provide those services.”4
Chapter 51 also covers a number of legal issues related to mental health services for children, such as youth crisis stabilization facilities, child psychiatry consultation programs, school-based mental health consultation pilot programs, and more.5
Signs and Symptoms
Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services (DHS) also provided resources to help identify mental illness in children. These signs and symptoms to look for include:
eating or sleeping too much or too little;
avoiding people and usual activities;
having low or no energy;
feeling helpless or hopeless;
experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships;
hearing voices or believing things that are not true; and
thinking of harming oneself or others.6
To help promote the social-emotional well-being of children, DHS discusses the method of love, talk, play, and read to promote positive mental health in children of all ages. However, these are simple solutions to encourage positive mental health, and some children are in need of more intensive treatment and services.
Wisconsin’s Office of Children’s Mental Health, as provided for in chapter 51, provides a number of resources for youth experiencing mental illnesses. One program includes their Lived Experience Leadership program, which allows children to interact with someone who understands the unique impact mental illness can have on someone’s life.
They also provide trainings and videos that help health care staff and parents learn to address children with mental illness in better and more effective ways.7
They also list a number of resources such as youth mental health groups and crisis hotlines available to help youth cope with their mental illnesses and associated symptoms.>8
Wisconsin counties also have their own specific mental health services for youth. Wraparound Milwaukee focuses on strength-based individualized care, and delivers a wide range of comprehensive services for youth and their families. This program is designed to reduce institutional-based care – children and their families receive services while the child remains in their home and community. Wraparound also provides a resource guide to help youth and their families find providers based on their own needs, values, and experiences.
Dane County provides services specific to the area, such as Journey Mental Health Center, which assists youth by providing mental health crisis services.9 They also have a 24-hour hotline that youth can call that is specific to Dane County.
These Resources Are Needed
Having increased access to resources in every Wisconsin county is important for the youth of Wisconsin. By continuing to increase access to services, Wisconsin’s youth can be better protected and learn how to manage their mental illnesses in healthy ways.
This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Children & the Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Children & the Law Section webpages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.
1 Robyn A. Cree et. al., “Health Care, Family, and Community Factors Associated with Mental, Behavioral, and Developmental Disorders and Poverty Among Children Aged 2-8 Years – United States, 2016,” Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 2018.
2 “Children’s Mental Health Data and Statistics,” Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Mar. 4, 2022.
3 Wis. Stat. § 48.135(1) (2019-20).
4 Wis. Stat. § 51.025 (2019-20).
5 See, e.g., Wis. Stats. §§ 51.042, 51.442, 51.445 (2019-20).
6 “Mental Health: Illnesses and Conditions,” Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
7 “Trauma-Informed Care Training,” Wis.Gov.
8 “Support for Families,” Wis.Gov.
9 “Child and Youth Treatment,” Dane County Department of Human Services.