08/22/2008 09:47 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Back to School

As they say, time flies when you're having fun. But before you can say PB & J, it'll be time to get the kids geared up and ready for school again. Part of that readiness should include mental and physical checkups. Oops, did I say mental? Yep, I did.

Mental Health is just as important as physical health, yet mental health disorders are often the last ones we think of addressing. Time to reorder our thinking. There was a 400 percent increase in bipolar disorder diagnoses in children in the past decade. What's up with that?
There's trouble brewing with our kids, and we need to take preventive actions -- the cost is too dear. Between lost workdays and lost taxes, Medicaid, and juvenile-court costs, psychiatric and learning disorders cost society billions of dollars a year. It's estimated that the US loses 113 billion dollars a year because of untreated and mistreated mental illness.

But trust me - mental health issues can't truly be measured in monetary terms alone. The more significant cost is loss of happiness, joy, potential, and ultimately, human life. The suicide rate for teenaged girls increased by 76 percent in the past year alone.

We need to begin checking for mental disorders when our kids are young - not only for the obvious reason that children afflicted with mental illnesses should get help as soon as possible, but because studies show that 75 percent of all adult psychiatric disorders start during childhood and adolescence. Based on health statistics, 20 percent of children and teens in the US have a psychiatric disorder, and 50% of kids with ADHD are never diagnosed.

Tune into your kids and take note of their mental health. Are they anxious? Sad and lethargic? Have a hard time concentrating? Do they restrain their eating? Consider the following: anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health problem, affecting 13 percent of 9- to 17-year-olds. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects 5 to 10 percent of children. Clinical depression affects one in eight adolescents. Approximately 20 percent of all kids have a learning disorder. Studies show that approximately 3 percent of teenage girls have an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or binge eating. These are sobering statistics that can have a serious impact on you and your family. Get help if you need it. Find out what mental illness is. These sites can be helpful:,,

As parents, it falls to us to advocate for more mental-health programs, and make sure mental health services are available to all who need them. Especially our kids.