It hurts me to see people shy away from mental health conversations.  We could all benefit with a more open and honest discussion on the topic.

Today’s Star Tribune article by Christina Roegies explains how mentally ill people can lead amazing and fulfilling lives.

Long ago I listened to a mental health expert tell his psychologist audience not to think themselves too different from the people they saw daily for treatment.  His logic was that we all have idiosyncracies and periods of our lives when our coping skills are low and we act in nutsey/irrational ways.

Assistant Commissioner of MN Department of Human Services, Dr Read Sulik’s “ability to cope” definition of children’s mental health is the most understandable and meaningful definition I have heard.

1) being able to engage and relate to others

2) being able to soothe oneself when stressed or upset, and

3) being able to explore and learn from the world around them.

Dr Sulik’s statement that “As adults, it is our responsibility to stand up for the children who cannot ask for help”.

This is the heart of all that ails our schools, public safety issues (high crime & massive prison populations with ridiculous recidivism rates) and quality of life in our communities.

Crisis nurseries, subsidized daycare, and more support for effective mental health services available through schools and public health make a big improvement in all aspects of our lives individually and as a community.

Relying on psychotropic medications and ignoring the larger conversation on mental health has diminished the quality of life for a huge percentage of our nation.

The very real costs of crime, incarceration, troubled schools, and loss of quality of life when compared to the rest of the industrial nations is a mental health issue and it makes America look pretty nutsey – let’s talk about it.

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Mind Your Business


A Crash Course in Early Childhood Mental Health

Guest Editorial

By Dr. L. Read Sulik, MD





If we don’t know where we’re going, then we’re never going to get there. As a child psychiatrist and pediatrician, I realize that if I can’t clearly define what mental health is, then I can’t help children get better.


Whenever I give a presentation, I begin by asking audiences to give me their own definition of children’s mental health. Here are three common responses:

1) being able to engage and relate to others,

2) being able to soothe oneself when stressed or upset, and

3) being able to explore and learn from the world around them.


These three phrases sum it up. Every child deserves help if he or she is unable to explore and learn, relate to others, regulate their emotions, or self-soothe. Early childhood mental health is as simple as that.


In spite of the widespread belief that young children cannot suffer from mental health problems, I have noticed an increase in young children suffering significant emotional problems over the past decade. The pace of our lives is faster than ever before. The amount of stress and pressures on families is also greater.


Minnesota has a drought of healthcare and mental health professionals who are trained to treat young children. During the past several years, many families had to wait from six to nine months to get an initial appointment with me or one of my partners.


Many children struggle with attachment-the relationship between a caregiver and a child. The caregiver of a well-attached child is able to successfully respond to a child’s arousal when they become overly stimulated or upset.


Parents must create a warm, nurturing environment where their child can first be soothed and later develop the ability to self-soothe. The amount and quality of affection shapes the development of a child’s brain during the early years. Love really does matter!


However, love alone isn’t always the answer. A parent’s emotional state and a child’s biological temperament play an enormous role in how well a child can be soothed.


Young children who are not easy to soothe may have “difficult” temperaments, be very sensitive to sensory stimulation, be anxious, depressed, or have other problems causing behavioral and emotional dysregulation such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).


“As adults, it is our responsibility to stand up for the children who cannot ask for help.”

-Dr. L. Read Sulik


A child with such behavior problems suffers in his ability to learn and receives mostly negative attention from adults. This can have a profound impact on the child’s development and sense of self.


Biology isn’t always the answer, either. Children may be difficult to soothe because their parents are stressed or have their own mental health issues. Their environment may be chaotic or even violent. The inability to be soothed is often an early sign of a child who is suffering from a more serious mental health problem.


All of our children need help in developing those skills that will keep them mentally healthy. They need regular amounts of sleep, healthy diets, regular physical and relaxation activities, and healthy, loving, supportive families and environments.


I commend the leaders of the Minnesota Initiative Foundations and Minnesota Thrive for having the courage to cover an issue that few people are talking about. I hope that reading this magazine leads you to take action.


As adults, it is our responsibility to stand up for the children who cannot ask for help. We need to stop denying the existence of children’s mental health problems. We need to stop condemning and stereotyping. And we need to support efforts to build awareness, affordability, and quality into early childhood mental health efforts at every level. We must do all we can to ensure that we identify those children and parents who are suffering and provide access to care as early as possible.


Because sooner or later, it may be your child who needs help.  IQ

Dr. L. Read Sulik is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and pediatrician. He is the newly appointed Assistant Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, overseeing the Chemical and Mental Health Services Administration.






1 Comment

  1. Why we don’t discuss mental health and mental illness in this country is beyond me. I read story after story of parents that have children with mental illnesses (Fetal Alcohol, Reactive Attachment Disorder to name a few) that have no where to turn for help. When human beings need help, there should be help. period.

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