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Unruly Kids May have a Mental Disorder

4/29/2012 National Institute of Mental Health director emphasizes importance of early diagnosis, intervention during talk at Pediatric Academic Societies meeting

BOSTON – When children behave badly, it’s easy to blame their parents. Sometimes, however, such behavior may be due to a mental disorder.

Mental illnesses are the No. 1 cause of medical disability in youths ages 15 and older in the United States and Canada, according to the World Health Organization.

“One reason we haven’t made greater progress helping people recover from mental disorders is that we get on the scene too late,” said Thomas R. Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the featured speaker at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Presidential Plenary during the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Boston.

Dr. Insel will discuss signs of mental illnesses in young children and the importance of early diagnosis and intervention in his presentation, “What Every Pediatrician Needs to Know about Mental Disorders,” from 1:35 to 2:10 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 29, in the Hynes Convention Center.

As the first line of defense, pediatricians can detect mental disorders early and ensure children get treatment as soon as possible, Dr. Insel said. While questionnaires currently are the best way for doctors to screen for mental illness, better tools are on the horizon, such as cognitive and genetic tests.

It’s also important to understand that mental illnesses are a developmental brain disorder even though they can look like behavior problems, Dr. Insel explained.

“The future of mental illness has to be at the point where we aren’t treating behavior separately from the rest of the person,” he said. “There needs to be full integration of behavior and medical concerns to ensure that we are able to care for the whole person and not just one system.”

In addition to serving as director of the NIMH, Dr. Insel is acting director of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, a new arm of the National Institutes of Health that aims to accelerate the development of diagnostics and therapeutics.

Autism also is an area of interest for Dr. Insel. He chairs the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Prior to joining NIMH, he was director of the Center for Autism Research and professor of psychiatry at Emory University, where he was the founding director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience.

Reporters who want to attend the sessions must check in at the PAS Press Office (room 205) in the Hynes Convention Center to receive press credentials.

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The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) are four individual pediatric organizations that co-sponsor the PAS Annual Meeting – the American Pediatric Society, the Society for Pediatric Research, the Academic Pediatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Members of these organizations are pediatricians and other health care providers who are practicing in the research, academic and clinical arenas. The four sponsoring organizations are leaders in the advancement of pediatric research and child advocacy within pediatrics, and all share a common mission of fostering the health and well-being of children worldwide. For more information, visit www.pas-meeting.org. Follow news of the PAS meeting on Twitter.