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When Depression Hits the Little Ones

July 18, 1993

I would like to commend your newspaper for its coverage of children and depression ("What We Don't Know," June 29). As Shari Roan correctly pointed out, children may sometimes go undiagnosed or inappropriately treated.

Studies suggest that at least 40% of inpatient admissions and treatments for children are preventable. Many of these children could be more effectively treated in outpatient settings, but many parents find that getting appropriate care for their children is difficult, if not impossible.

Insurance companies are willing to reimburse families for costly inpatient care, but many times offer limited or no benefits for children who could benefit from day treatment, partial hospitalization or other options.

Children suffering from depression are part of a troubling statistic: 14 million children in this country suffer from a diagnosable mental disability. We must begin to place as much emphasis on our children's psychological health needs as we do on their physical health.

These children can be treated successfully at an early age so they can lead productive lives. If they are not treated, the social and economic burden to this country will be enormous.

ELSIE GO LU, President

California Psychological Assn.

Sacramento

*

As a school psychologist, I work with unhappy kids every school day. I must object to the conclusion to your otherwise informative and well-written article which strongly implied that schools don't care or don't want to deal with the problem.

On the contrary, teachers, psychologists and other school staff are deeply concerned about the mental health needs of children and we are doing what we can to provide for everyone.

There is only so much we can do. Special education services are very narrowly defined by Public Law 94-142, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This federal law dictates whom the schools may and may not serve with special education programs. Eligibility for all categories, including emotional disturbance, hinges on one question: Does the child's problem adversely affect his or her ability to learn? If the answer is no, then special education is not required.

The bottom line is, schools do care. We're working with limited resources, and under laws that further limit our ability to provide services to every child.

JENNY HUGHART

Lakewood

*

As a psychologist specializing in working with children, I was extremely pleased by your article. I see many children referred for a variety of behavioral problems and agree that too often depression has not been considered as a source of symptoms displayed by children.

While many have a family history of depression, it is not a prerequisite for a youngster who may be having difficulty dealing with current life stresses.

I also see many youngsters who seem to have a relatively stress-free life but are having difficulties coping with life in general. Often schools and parents are surprised that the child may be diagnosed as depressed, for the behaviors are not the sleep- and appetite-disturbed behaviors of the depressed adult.

In fact, a depressed child often will display hyperactive, acting-out behaviors in an attempt to overcome sad, helpless and hopeless feelings.

I have been told by many of my young patients that they couldn't, or wouldn't, tell their parents or teachers how they really felt because they wouldn't be believed or because they might hurt the adult's feelings. What a shame.

PAT EDMISTER

North Hollywood

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