Trauma is a costly public health problem for all Coloradans. Most often, trauma occurs as a result of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, violence, disaster and other emotionally harmful experiences. Traumatic events induce feelings of powerlessness, fear, hopelessness and a constant state of alert, as well as feelings of shame, guilt, rage and isolation.
Without treatment, children who experience repeated exposure to traumatic events have an increased risk of developing mental and substance use disorders, suicide and chronic physical ailments. They are also more likely to experience increased involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and may even face premature death.
We recently connected with Shannon Van Deman, PhD, who leads the Pediatric Mental Health Institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado and asked her to share more about how they are addressing childhood trauma.
What is the role of the Pediatric Mental Health Institute?
At Children’s Hospital Colorado, we have a fundamental responsibility to provide mental health care for our patients. Our services are child-centered and family-focused, meaning we work collaboratively with our patients and their families to help them through crises and empower them to develop the resources and skills to get better.
The Pediatric Mental Health Institute is one of the largest providers in the Rocky Mountain region that offers a full continuum of psychiatric care and provide a broad spectrum of psychiatric services, including outpatient, day treatment and inpatient services for children and adolescents. I’m particularly proud of our Medical Day Treatment program, which is a joint venture with Aurora Public Schools. It’s an accredited school program that employs two certified teachers along with two paraprofessionals from the Aurora Public School system. The program is also staffed with nurses, a psychologist, social worker and other medical professionals who work together with youth and families to reach academic goals and improve physical and emotional health.
What do you want Coloradans to know about trauma?
Today in Colorado, suicide is the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 24, and an estimated one out of six teens has a diagnosable mental health condition. At Children’s, we’ve seen the need for psychiatric treatment go up year over year, and we’ve tripled the number of outpatient services in the last five years. Prevention, early identification, early intervention and treatment are needed now more than ever, and we’ve been working alongside Kempe to ensure Colorado’s health care providers are educated on the complexities of trauma and how it impacts their delivery.
How can we positively shape the mental health of Colorado children?
It is completely normal for children and adolescents to have difficulty managing their thoughts and feelings, but some aspects of our culture have told us we need to face these challenges alone. My hope is that through our work, we will help families engage in more conversations that break the stigma of mental health. It’s incredibly valuable for individuals and families with this lived experience to talk about their challenges and tell their story to others going through the same things. It’s also very important for Coloradans to advocate for child-focused legislation because public policy decisions can dramatically shape the health of children, for better or worse. I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about advocacy for child health to sign up as a Child Health Champion.