By Lori Lyn Lirio
ONE out of five children suffers from mental disorder in the United States and only twenty percent of those afflicted with it receive health care.
This was learned shortly after Systems of Care (SoC), a program under the Community Guidance Center-Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. opened a house in San Antonio, Saipan early this month.
Program Manager Vina S. Ayuyu said the SoC program is focused on improving the mental and behavioral health outcomes for children and youth.
“Through our outreach, education, and direct service components, our program provides prevention and intervention services for children and youth between the ages of five to eight years old who are experiencing or are at-risk of severe emotional challenges.”
The SoC program was established when the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services awarded a federal grant to CHCC-CGC for the planning of system of care in the CNMI in 2014.
“The following year, our team successfully garnered a four-year implementation grant that then established the SOC program.”
Ayuyu cited the national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which indicated that one out of five children experience a mental disorder in a given year. She said only 20 percent of these children with mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders receive care from a mental health care provider.
“Mental health is important at every state of life and is just as important as our physical health. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Good mental health is essential for a child as it can affect their ability to function and succeed at school, at home and in society,” she added.
According to Ayuyu, there have been challenges to getting the program fully operational, “but we have made significant strides in providing much needed services to our children, youth and their families.”
Since SoC opened its doors, Ayuyu said they have received 104 referrals, 86 of whom eventually enrolled for wraparound and therapy services. They have certified over 470 individuals in Mental Health First Aid and have reached over 1,200 of community members through various outreach activities.
She considered one of the their recent achievements the completion of the renovation of the building which now housed the SoC.
“We know there is so much more to be done. As long as mental health challenges persist in our community, our work cannot and must not stop. We must continue to strengthen our effort to ensure that our children have adequate access to appropriate mental health services. I encourage us all to continue to inform ourselves on the mental health needs of our children and work together proactively to address these needs,” Ayuyu said.
Before the opening ceremony, Senate President Arnold Palacios signed a proclamation designating the month of May as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month.
The goal of the proclamation is to address the complex mental health needs of children, youth and families in the CNMI.
“It is appropriate that a day should be set apart each year for the direction of our thoughts toward our children’s mental health and well-being,” stated in the proclamation.