Advocate & Champion of Child Mental Health
look at the warm lights and pastel colored interior of the New
York University Child Study Center and all the images you have
about mental-health facilities begin to fade away. Lush lounge
chairs replace old, leather couches. Where you expect inkblot
tests and musty books, there are sleek computers and glossy magazines.
And it’s no accident. The Center symbolizes a deliberate effort
to change the way we think about the field of child psychiatry—
a vital goal in a culture ill at ease with the topic of mental
teenagers will die of suicide this year than AIDS, infectious
disease, pneumonia, cancer, stroke— all of those combined,” laments
Dr. Harold Koplewicz, founder of the NYU Child Study Center.
are still dying unnecessarily and the only way that you will improve
that is to improve the science of psychiatric illness, which means
that you’ll understand the warning signs and the treatment of
depression. But you have to destigmatize depression. You have
to make it a real illness before parents and teachers will help
kids identify it.”
Dr. Koplewicz is determined to persuade Americans to acknowledge
the ‘realness’ of childhood mental illness. His goals are timely.
Since graduating from Albert Einstein Medical Center in 1978,
he has watched parents and students struggle to cope with school
violence, teen depression, and, most recently, the trauma of the
World Trade Center attacks. Three years ago, the Surgeon General
reported that 10 million children and teenagers suffer from psychiatric
illnesses. Although such cases have received more attention than
in the past, the stigma of psychiatric disease endures—curtailing
efforts to advance the science of child mental health and improve
the treatment of psychiatric illnesses.
Currently, only one out of five children with a diagnosable disorder
gets any kind of treatment.
that amazing?” asks Koplewicz, emphasizing the fact that this
happens in the richest country in the world.
Since opening the NYU Child Study Center in 1998, Dr. Koplewicz
has been fighting to remedy this situation through savvy public
awareness campaigns and a concerted effort to bridge the gap between
scientific research and clinical practice.
When school shootings erupted in the mid-90s, specialists from
the Child Study Center spoke on morning television, advising parents
and teachers on how to identify warning signs of aggressive behavior.
After 9/11, their advice on coping with posttraumatic stress appeared
in newspapers and magazines nationwide.
The Center’s website, www.AboutOurKids.org, attracts 100,000
visitors every month. Through these efforts and others like them,
the Center has begun to lift childhood mental health out of the
same dark cloud that once obscured AIDS and cancer. In fact, their
outreach efforts were inspired by the successful AIDS quilt project
and the cancer-awareness programs of the 90s.
destigmatizing they were able to change the way people thought
about [diseases] and thereby increased research dollars and led
to better care.”
Public education is only one stage, however. At the end of the
day, it is the NYU Child Study Center’s pioneering research that
aims to push the science of child psychiatry forward and improve
care. At the midtown center, Koplewicz’s staff conducts rigorous
research and clinical treatment. Their mission to apply science
to practice ensures that patients receive state-of-the-art care
and only treatments that they have developed or that have been
proven effective elsewhere. They embrace a unique fusion of clinical
care and front-line research that Dr. Koplewicz envisioned from
the very beginning:
I came to NYU,” explains Koplewicz “my dream was the idea that
we could create a center that was going to advance the science
of child mental illness and the treatment of those illnesses.”
Over the last four years, the Center has grown from a modest three-room
facility to a 20,000 square foot office housing a legion of research
institutes and programs, each investigating a critical area of
child mental health, such as: anxiety and mood disorders, ADHD,
learning and achievement, and pediatric neuroscience.
The Center’s unique approach is epitomized in one of their most
innovative projects, Parentcorps, a government funded program
headed by the Institute of Children at Risk. The goal of Parentcorps
is to identify naturally good parents in low-socioeconomic areas
and teach them to train parents of preschoolers on how to play
with and discipline their children in order to decrease aggression—
a behavior that can be alleviated with improved parenting-skills.
The Center plans to extend Parentcorps to New Jersey next year
and, if successful, expand the program nationwide.
In large part, the Center’s success can be traced to Dr. Koplewicz’s
talent for rallying broad public support. Dedicated board members
and key partnerships in the medical community help explain the
Center’s rapid achievements. While Al Roker stars on an instructional
video for ParentCorps, Senators Schumer and Clinton fight for
improved insurance coverage of mental health treatments. Koplewicz
makes it a point to acknowledge the Center’s broad base of local
and national supporters who shared his passion for helping children.
Still, their most natural partnership, says Koplewicz, has been
local educators who spend their days working with kids. Before
opening the center, he organized the Education Advisory Council
in order to keep an open and ongoing dialogue with the city’s
educators. The Council meets with educators regularly during the
year to address mental health issues affecting city students —
explaining why Chancellor Levy contacted the center for advice
immediately after the September attacks.
On September 11th of this year, the New York University
Child Study Center and the Museum of the City of New York will
open an exhibit titled “The Day Our World Changed” showcasing
artwork created by New York metropolitan-area children in response
to 9/11. The Center hopes to build on the success of its hugely
popular “Childhood Revealed”—an evocative collection of art generated
by youngsters who have mental disorders. Originally planned as
a single showing, “Childhood Revealed” continues to draw crowds.
To date, it has visited 15 cities around the nation, spawned a
book, and reached an audience of 30 million. A cornerstone of
their outreach effort, it has been embraced by the public—a promising
sign for an organization seeking to bring child mental health
out into the open.#
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