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Message from the Surgeon General on Child Mental Health Month

by David Satcher, M.D.

Transcript of a video tape message delivered on November 1, 1999, from the Surgeon General David Satcher, and presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY at the opening of the New York University Child Study Center Exhibit, Childhood Revealed: Art Expressing Pain, Discovery and Hope.

Hello. I am Surgeon General David Satcher, and I would like to commend Dr. Harold Koplewicz of the NYU Child Study Center, as well as the other organizations taking part in today's news conference. I am sure you are all excited that the President is issuing a proclamation today declaring November as "National Child Mental Health Month."

This is the first time in our nation's history that an administration has dedicated a month to the issues of children's mental health and turned the nation's attention to the problem of pediatric psychiatric disorders. You led the effort to achieve this historic designation and, along with the opening of your exhibit at the Whitney today and your National Child Mental Health Initiative, you are helping to educate, motivate and mobilize the country regarding the mental health of our children.

This is not an insignificant problem. Daily the news is filled with reports of youth violence, teen substance abuse and adolescent suicide. More than 10 million children and teens in the United States have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder. Only one out five receive proper diagnosis and treatment. Too often, our attitude as a nation towards mental health problems is one of blame and stigmatization of the victims, their family members and their friends. Such reactions add to the burden of hurt, intensify their isolation, and shroud their suffering in secrecy.

The results of such neglect and silence is often tragic. Between 1980 and 1996, the suicide rate among children aged 10-14 years increased by 100%. For African-American males aged 15-19, the rate increased 105% during the same period. And in 1996, more teenagers and young adults died of suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia and influenza, and chronic lung disease combined.

You are issuing an important "Call to Action" today that can help to change that situation. By calling on every pediatrician, teacher, school nurse, and parent to begin to understand the warning signs of child mental illness, you are taking steps consistent with my own "Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Suicide" issued earlier this year.

In that document, we stated that interventions have a much greater likelihood of success if they involve the community through a variety of services and providers. Schools, parents and the public health community are vital to that process.

In December I will release the first-ever Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health to the Nation. It will include a close look at the issues relating to child mental health. With the publication of this report, I hope to bring mental health and illness to the forefront of our Nation's discussions on health and help move the national attitude from one of blame and stigmatization to one of caring and support.

I will need your help in using the release of this historic report to move the debate and its outcome toward what I know are our mutual goals- health and quality health care for all. These goals are impossible to attain without addressing mental health issues. While we cannot change the past, I feel certain that together we can shape the future. Thank you again for your efforts. I look forward to working with you. Our children are worth it.