Topic: Collaborating with Communities

De-Bunking the Myths of Mental Health

Over 200,000 children and adolescents in Colorado have diagnosable and treatable mental health conditions. Alarmingly, less than one quarter of these children and adolescents receive any type of professional care. Only in recent times are social services and community resources focusing on the prevention of toxic stress, its impacts on mental health, and the promotion of healthy social and emotional development.

On February 7, 2019, we convened a group of pediatric and mental health experts to help educate our supporters and partners on mental health issues facing Colorado’s children and their families. Here, we de-bunk the four most common myths of mental health and share what we learned from this important discussion:

Myth #1: Behavioral health and mental health are the same thing.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, to do so is incorrect. Mental health focuses on a person’s psychological state, whereas behavioral health is a broader term that includes mental health. Behavioral health looks at how behaviors impact an individual’s physical health and well-being, but does not necessarily address all of the external, environmental factors that may influence an individual’s well-being, such as poverty, discrimination or abuse.

The negative stigma that surrounds mental health has pushed many healthcare and education professionals to reference behavioral health when talking to individuals and families because it’s an easier entry point into a discussion about mental health. Ultimately, the most important thing is to engage people in conversation and identify the appropriate treatment, regardless of how the topic is presented.

Myth #2: Mental health issues are hereditary.

Some psychiatric diagnoses, like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and ADHD, are likely to be hereditary, meaning they are caused by a gene mutation that is inherited from a parent. But other mental health issues are likely a combination of genetics and lifestyle, which means that certain genes may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, and environmental factors may trigger it.

The vast majority of children and youth in mental health treatment programs have histories of maltreatment, traumatic exposure and chronic stress or adversity. These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can damage the developing brain and lead to problems in learning and behavior, as well as increased susceptibility to physical and mental illness. So, although hereditary and genetic factors can influence mental health, our environments, relationships and external supports are significantly more impactful.

Myth #3: If you have a mental illness as a child, it’s something you must live with for the rest of your life.

There has been significant progress in developing trauma-informed and evidence-based treatment programs that can shift negative trajectories and improve outcomes for children. Here locally, Children’s Hospital Colorado is home to a wide array of outpatient, day treatment and inpatient services that provide a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to evaluation and treatment for children and adolescents ages 5 to 17.

While medical professionals can effectively treat most children, it is more challenging to address the environmental factors that trigger mental health issues in children. There has been a movement toward mental health treatment providers working collaboratively with patients and their families to identify the underlying triggers and help them through crises together. When everyone in the family is provided with the resources and skills to help a child get better, the positive outcomes are considerably more sustainable.

Myth #4: When a child acts out, it is clearly a behavioral health issue.

Dr. C. Henry Kempe often remarked that if you do not understand someone’s behavior, you do not understand their history. When someone acts out violently or aggressively, it is likely because they have experienced a traumatic event or series of events. Breaking the stigma of mental health requires us to look at the issue through a different lens – one that considers an individual’s history and recognizes the myriad of factors contributing to their current well-being. As a community, we can help build up children’s resilience and promote healthy behaviors by ensuring they have supportive relationships and positive environments that nurture their growth and development.


The mental health crisis is one of many threats to the healthy development of Colorado’s children. Over the next few months, Kempe will continue to bring together community partners to help shine a light on these connections and how we can partner as a community to end the cycle of abuse and positively impact child development. We appreciate your support of our efforts to give all children the opportunity to thrive.

 

 

Feb. 7 Youth Mental Health Event

Join Kempe for our winter Uniting Communities for Kids event featuring a panel of experts on mental health issues facing children and their families in Colorado and learn what can be done to protect and heal.

Thursday, Feb. 7
7:30-9:00 a.m.
Wellshire Events Center – 3333 S Colorado Blvd. Denver, CO

Over 200,000 kids and teens have diagnosable mental health conditions in Colorado, but less than a quarter of them receive any type of professional care. What should be done to better identify and treat mental health conditions in our youth.

Moderator:
Don Mares- Executive Director, Denver Department of Human Services

Panelists:
Steven Berkowitz, MD – Visiting Professor of Psychiatry, University of Colorado, School of Medicine

Evelin Gomez, PhD – Department of Pediatrics, The Kempe Center

Shannon Van Deman, PhD – Vice President, Pediatric Mental Health Institute, Children’s Hospital Colorado

De-Bunking the Myths of Child Sex Trafficking

Across the globe, child sex trafficking is a $99 billion enterprise, making it the second largest illegal trade behind drugs. It reaches every corner of Colorado, but has largely been ignored and become a hidden epidemic that is destroying lives and endangering Kempe’s mission to protect children.

On October 4, 2018, we convened a group of health and human services experts to help educate the community on what child sex trafficking looks like in Colorado. Here, we de-bunk the five most common myths of child sex trafficking and share what we learned from this important discussion:

MYTH #1: Sex trafficking is not a problem in my community – sex trafficking is only a problem in foreign countries or large, highly-populated cities.
The unfortunate reality is that there is a growing demand for sex with youth here in Colorado. It happens in every community and affects youth of every age, all genders, races and from all income levels. Additionally, while the Coloradans fueling the demand for sex with children come from all socioeconomic backgrounds, the typical buyer is a Caucasian male, 35-45 years old, married with two children and making between $70,000 and $100,000 a year.

MYTH #2: Sex trafficking is a crime that must involve some form of travel, transportation or movement across state or national borders.
Although transportation may be involved as a control mechanism to keep victims in unfamiliar places, sex trafficking does not always involve movement. There are often subtler forms of coercion being used, including victims being physically and socially isolated from their family and friends, or withholding basic necessities like food, water and healthcare.

MYTH #3: For youth who are involved in sex trafficking, it must be their choice or they would run away and seek help.
Victims of trafficking often do not immediately seek help or self-identify as victims. Pimps use a variety of grooming techniques to prey on a victim’s vulnerabilities and leverage them for control, including cultivating drug dependency. Over weeks and months of physical and psychological manipulation, the victim experiences “trauma bonding” and develops an unhealthy loyalty to their pimp. When someone tries to remove a victim from a dangerous trafficking situation, many times they will go back to their pimp because that bond is so strong.

MYTH #4: If families were more vigilant, youth would not get caught up in sex trafficking.
Traffickers are expert manipulators and well-aware of the risk factors that make it easier to coax certain youth into trafficking. They target vulnerable youth on social media, dating apps or in online gaming chat rooms. Some young people are even lured into trafficking by other kids their age, especially those living at treatment centers or group homes. In some cases, there are parents or caregivers who traffic their own children for financial gain. These situations can be difficult to identify because of the complex cycle of abuse and control that has been unaddressed throughout the adults’ lifetime.

MYTH #5: Law enforcement and child protective services are the ones responsible for protecting our youth and putting an end to sex trafficking.
We all have a role to play in protecting our youth. Within our communities, it is essential that parents, neighbors and family friends look out for each other and offer support when it is needed. We must be careful not to judge or shame other parents, but rather, take the time to engage each other in important conversations. We must also educate ourselves about what trafficking really looks like and speak up when we notice any red flags. The conversation around child sex trafficking has been hidden for too long, and it is our job to bring it to the forefront.

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Child sex trafficking is one of many threats to the healthy development of Colorado’s children. Over the next few months, Kempe will continue to bring together community partners to help shine a light on these connections and how we can partner as a community to end the cycle of abuse and positively impact child development. We appreciate your support of our efforts to give all children the opportunity to thrive.

Reducing the Trauma of Child Sex Trafficking Victims – Q&A with Denise Abdoo

Children and youth who are victims of sex trafficking often experience high levels of trauma, which can have profound negative impacts on their physical, emotional and psychological well-being for decades. When working with these individuals, it is essential for child welfare professionals to recognize this past trauma and create supportive recovery environments.

As a joint program with the Child Protection Team and the Pediatric Emergency Department at Children’s Hospital Colorado, there is now a dedicated team of pediatric and adolescent focused registered nurses who provide comprehensive care to victims of sexual assault and trafficking. The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurses provide acute sexual assault care with a trained eye toward the sensitivities of working with adolescents and young adults. They support our young patients through sensitive and timely examinations, connecting patients with legal and mental health resources, infectious disease treatment and more.

We recently connected with Denise Abdoo, PhD, CPNP, SANE-A, SANE-P, who leads the SANE team and asked her to share more about how they work to protect child and youth victims of sex trafficking.

Tell us more about the SANE team.

Currently, there are 13 registered nurses on the SANE team. We require a minimum of two years nursing experience along with additional education and training to be prepared to perform forensic examinations. Additionally, the SANE nurses provide expert witness testimony in court. Our team works closely with local law enforcement agencies and the Colorado Department of Human Services regarding trafficking activities within the community.

How do you know if someone is being trafficked?

When a patient is brought to the hospital or comes in for treatment, they don’t usually tell us they are being sexually exploited. We are trained to ask specific questions and look for signs of trafficking. Sexually exploited youth include male and female patients, from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of the sexually exploited youth are identified as high-risk youth, including victims of prior abuse, homeless children, runaways, those who were forced out of the home, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community, those with a history of substance abuse, prior legal involvement, and those within the foster care or welfare systems.

What can we do if we suspect child sex trafficking in our community?

Recognize it. And then report your concerns to the appropriate authorities. If you are a parent, family member or friend who is concerned that a child is being trafficked – or if you have a suspicion that someone you know is trafficking – you should reach out to your county’s human services department first. You can also call Colorado’s statewide child abuse hotline, 1-800-CO-4-KIDS, and they will connect you to the appropriate resources.

Empowering Survivors to Move Forward with Hope and Dignity

Brittany* was 15 when she was referred to Extended Hands of Hope by a caseworker from Jefferson County’s Department of Human Services. She had been in and out of jail since the age of nine, had a history of running away, and was grades behind in both math and reading. On top of this, her severe depression was fueled by drug and alcohol addiction.

It took Brittany about two months before she allowed the Extended Hands of Hope team to help her. She struggled with the structure and process of the program, refusing therapy and every service offered by her caseworker. Her trauma was so deep that she even rejected personal hygiene and would gnaw on her own hair because of nervousness.

Eventually, Brittany began substance abuse treatment, counseling and therapy. She took a shower for the first time in months, and attended Extended Hands of Hope’s licensed, on-site school, Forward Learning Academy. She successfully made it through every phase of the program, and by the time she finished, she was re-enrolled in school, applying for jobs and reunited with her mom. Brittany also continued therapy after she left and regularly attended substance abuse support groups.

Had Brittany not come to a trauma-informed facility like Extended Hands of Hope, she would have been presumed defiant by the courts and ended up in jail, back under control of a pimp, or dead. Extended Hands of Hope protects young girls like Brittany who have been recovered from sex trafficking and exploitation and provides them with safe homes and a strong support team to help them heal and develop long-term survivorship skills. By fostering a trusting and supportive environment, these young girls are able to move forward into a new beginning.

Join us October 4 for a panel discussion with Extended Hands of Hope and other experts to learn more about what is being done in Colorado to protect our vulnerable youth. Register here.

*Brittany is a fictional name used to protect the identity of the survivor.