Newsroom > DHHS News Release

April 28, 2011

Marla Augustine, Communications and Legislative Services, (402) 471-4047 or

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Caring for Every Child’s Mental Health
May 3 is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

Lincoln—Children at play seem to be happy and carefree, yet many people may be surprised to learn that trauma and emotional distress are quite prevalent among children. Approximately one out of every eight children in the U.S. has a serious emotional disorder. Many of these disorders are caused by trauma. Research shows that when exposed to traumatic events, children can develop serious psychological problems later in childhood and in adulthood. As they grow, these children take with them the effects of traumatic events, and are more likely to experience problems with substance abuse, depression, and stress management as a result.

“The good news is that children who experience trauma can recover if they have the support of positive, caring adults who provide structure, comfort, and guidance,” said Scot L. Adams, director of the Division of Behavioral Health in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

“An early response can help the child receive the help necessary to cope and build resilience for the future.”

Traumatic events can include a death in the family, a natural disaster, and bullying. Young children also may be traumatized when they witness disturbing acts or hear about them on TV.

Children who have been traumatized may be unable to control their emotions, act impulsively, overreact to loud or sudden noises, or withdraw excessively. At other times, the effects of trauma are physical—frequent headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue. An added complication is that very young children are often unable to verbalize a traumatic event and why they are distressed.

Trauma can seriously disrupt a young child’s social and emotional development. Chronic exposure to traumatic events can impair his or her ability to focus, organize and process information, and solve problems. There may also be negative effects on academic performance, self-confidence, and socialization as the child grows older.

“Exposure to trauma may be difficult for very young children to deal with, but they can recover,” Adams said. “Parents and caregivers can help children cope by talking with the child in a caring and supportive way. In some instances, the child may need counseling to restore a sense of emotional well-being.”

For professional and other resources, check out the Network of Care on the DHHS website at The Nebraska Family Helpline at 1-888-866-8660 can also provide resources and support.