September 12, 2016 | In the News

Children’s brains are “sticky” — childhood experiences can have lasting effects on an individual, particularly when those experiences are traumatic. Recognizing and treating potential mental health needs in very young children can help prevent serious physical and behavioral health issues later in life.

A recent National Public Radio segment features Rahill Briggs, PsyD, director of the Healthy Steps Program at Montefiore Medical Group and member of Advancing Trauma-Informed Care, a national multi-site pilot initiative led by the Center for Health Care Strategies through support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Dr. Briggs discusses the need for using routine pediatrician visits to screen children as young as six months old for mental health needs.

“If a baby feels safe, a baby will explore, and if a baby explores, a baby will learn,” she says, and that’s the basis for mental health. What can interfere with that learning? Things like divorce, neighborhood violence and poverty. And sometimes the signs are right in front of us. Briggs says half of all children with mental illness show symptoms before they turn 14.

“I don’t want to wait until a child has missed five days of school because his anxiety is so bad that he can’t get on the school bus. That to me is a red flag,” she says. “I want to see the pink flags.”

What she means by that is when a child “starts to chew on his shirt a little bit when you say, ‘tomorrow is school.’ Just very early, early warning signs of something going wrong.” The best place to spot these pink flags, she believes, is in a pediatrician’s office. It’s a place all new parents bring their babies regularly and a place they trust.

Listen to the segment on National Public Radio’s website.