Deseret News
Letter to the Editor

Utah alone has the highest percentage of individuals with mental illness when compared with other states. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 children currently have or will have a diagnosable mental disorder sometime in their life. Of these children, many will require treatment to manage mental health symptoms. Although Utah has numerous mental health facilities and hospitals trained to work with at-risk children and adolescents, many hospitals are turning away children who display severe behavioral problems.

Within Salt Lake County and Utah County, there are eight crisis facilities that offer immediate, acute inpatient care and crisis management to children and adolescents in need. Children requiring more intense and long-term care are often referred to the Utah State Hospital, as they are trained to work with the most difficult cases. However, the State Hospital is known to turn children away who display aggressive behaviors and are diagnosed with a mental illness called reactive attachment disorder. One social worker indicated that thet do not accept children with behavioral problems, as they have nothing to do with mental health.

Treatment providers at the State Hospital are known to be the highest-trained mental health providers. They are trained to work with children, adolescents and adults who have histories of mental illness and have experienced trauma. How can they, then, refuse to acknowledge the correlation between behavior and mental health?

We need to take a stand and recognize the needs of the child, despite aggressive behaviors that may often be difficult to manage. Educators, family members, health professionals and those interacting with children need to be educated. Imagine if the community came together and supported these children rather than turned them away. Children deserve to have a chance to be in a safe environment, regardless of their behavior and mental health history. If the State Hospital and other inpatient units are unwilling to accept children with severe problems, who can we rely on to work with these children?

Holli Howland