Supporting Children & Families Through Mental Illness

–submitted by Kay Schwichtenberg; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

Schmitt KatieDr. Katherine Schmitt who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry highlighted the growing challenge of supporting children and their families through the challenge of illnesses such as ADD, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Virtually everyone has been exposed to mental illness through family and friends. The impact and incidences in children is pronounced.   Dr. Schmitt cites that 50% of all lifetime cases begin by the age of 14. The ability to function in society, school, and family structure is impeded by undiagnosed mental illness with the delay in intervention of 8 or more years from the time the symptoms are noticed.

Recognizing the warning signs, such as significant weight changes, breaking the law and defiance can help lead to early intervention.   The impact on society is evident.  Seventy percent of youth in the state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness, as well as 90% of youth who died by suicide. Wisconsin’s suicide rate in 2014 was 40% higher than the national rate.

How does Dane County fare?  In the 2015 Youth Assessment report, nearly 21% of students in middle school and high school report that sadness interferes with their daily activities. Higher numbers of African American students report a feeling of anxiousness or being on edge, with females reporting those feelings at even higher incidences.

Reversing the trends will require vigilance from an entire community.   Family, teachers, employers and friends are on the front line of awareness.  Additional resources can be provided by primary care providers, schools and community resources.  Treatment options are available on both an outpatient and inpatient basis.  But even with that availability, Dr. Schmitt suggests that access to mental health care can improve significantly by embedding mental health providers in primary care settings, increasing school based mental health access, and incentivizing providers in underserved areas of the community and state.

Dr. Schmitt has her undergraduate degree from UW-Madison and graduated from the Medical College of Wisconsin in 2005. Her residency was in child and adolescent psychiatry at UW–Madison.  She currently practices child and adolescent psychiatry at Unity Point Health-Meriter Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Hospital in Madison.

For those looking for more information, check the following websites: National Alliance on Mental Illness ( and Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (

If you missed our meeting this week, CLICK to watch the video.

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