CHARLESTON — Highlighting the needs of children with mental or behavioral health diagnoses, Legal Aid of West Virginia will host an awareness event in May.

The Awareness Walk in Support of Children’s Mental Health Awareness will be Friday, May 13 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston. The event will include snacks and face-painting, as well as resources for families and community members from agencies serving children and families, especially those serving mental health needs.

The event is put on by Legal Aid's Family Advocacy, Support and Training (FAST) Program, which targets families with children who have mental and behavioral health disorders, Bill Albert, director of Legal Aid’s Behavioral Health Advocacy Project, which includes the FAST program, told The West Virginia Record. 

That includes children with depression and anxiety or attention disorders, among others. It doesn’t include children with intellectual disabilities.

“Families, especially children, have mental health care needs and are in need of treatment and services that are individualized,” Albert said. “We just want to educate the general public about what their needs are.”

One in five youth between ages 13 and 18 have a mental health condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. About 10 percent of youth have a mood disorder, and behavior or conduct disorders appear at a similar rate. Slightly fewer, but still 8 percent of youth have an anxiety disorder.

The NIMH also says nearly half of students with a mental illness drop out of high school. About 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental illness.

As advocates, Albert’s staff helps families understand their rights and navigate systems to ensure their children get the right care. For example, they act as a liaison between the families and schools, helping families understand the services their child should get under state and federal law, including special education.

The staff includes lawyers and non-lawyers.

This is the second year FAST will put on the awareness walk, which falls in line with a national week of awareness of mental and behavioral health in children. By switching the event to the evening, Albert hopes it will draw more families and children who will have the chance to learn more about the resources available to them, the pervasiveness of these kinds of disorders and how to identify symptoms.

Even those not attending the awareness walk are invited to wear green to represent the cause. The color is meant to represent new life, new growth and new beginnings.

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