Local organization working to tackle childrens mental health issues before it's too late

Helping kids with mental health
Updated: May. 22, 2018 at 12:48 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Mental Health. Two words we see in the headlines more and more these days. Especially related to acts of violence and what signs may have been missed.

But in Charlotte, an organization is trying to get ahead of the incidents that sprawl the television. Alexander Youth Network wants to make sure they never happen.

Tammy Ross first noticed her daughter's behavioral issues when she was four years old and they progressively got worse.

"As a parent, I shed a lot of tears. There was a lot of frustration and when you're out in public people don't know what's wrong with your child," she said.

Ultimately, Ross' daughter was diagnosed with an intellectual development disorder.

"In a regular classroom setting, she stayed in trouble, because she wasn't processing. She didn't understand the work," Tammy said.

While Tammy's daughter grew up in a loving environment, mental health issues in children are often brought about by trauma. Dr. Kamilah McKissick is the Vice President of Clinical Services at AYN.

"Trauma doesn't always mean abuse and neglect. It's also children who have been raised in difficult environments, where they might have had chaotic family experiences," McKissick said.

AYN uses a curriculum formulated by Dr. Bruce Perry, a leader in childhood trauma, who treated survivors of Columbine and was recently featured on 60 Minutes.

"We as a society have been very focused on what's wrong with this kid? His behavior is bad. He's tearing up the classroom, let's get him out of the classroom, let's suspend him. When really those are the times that child is crying out for help," McKissick said.

The experts at AYN have found getting to the bottom of a traumatic event and systematically working through it can change a child.

"If there's aggression, if there's impulsivity, if there's property destruction, on the surface, it looks just like that. But what's the root cause of that? Why are they aggressive," Jesse Horn, Day Treatment Program Manager, said.

But getting a child early on is key, especially when we've seen time and time again what can happen when mental health issues go untreated. 

"There's something in their mental health that becomes an issue and it's unaddressed. And because it's unaddressed, it festers and it gets worse and it becomes more dangerous and lives get wasted," Bill Crowder, an AYN Board Member, told WBTV.

AYN's various programs treat about eight thousand kids in our region every year. The majority of their funding comes from Medicaid, but President and CEO Craig Bass says they help a lot more kids if funding was increased.

"The problem is not that people have mental health issues, the problem is there are not adequate resources to address those concerns," Bass said.

Today, Tammy's daughter is thriving because her issues were tackled early on. And to explain the importance of getting ahead of the problem, Bass always points to an old proverb.

"The child who's not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel it's warmth and I think that really speaks to what we deal with every day. These are not bad kids. These are kids that want to do better, but don't know how."

For more information about Alexander Youth Network, visit: http://www.alexanderyouthnetwork.org/.

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