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Public Policy and Administration


Steven A. Matarelli


Mental illness is not only the leading cause of disability among adults, but there is also an emerging public health crisis in childhood mental illness. A majority of parents do not recognize symptoms of psychological disorder in their children, and current policies and programs for mental health service delivery are not sufficiently responsive to the early help-seeking dynamics of families. Using a concurrent mixed methods design, this study explored how parents in the Pikes Peak region of Colorado learned to recognize their child's mental illness. Phenomenological interviews, augmented by poetic inquiry and quantitative measurements, were used to discover factors that inhibited or enhanced five mothers' recognitions. These factors were then evaluated using a frequency distribution analysis and a rank-order correlation. The phenomenon of recognition was, for these mothers, a process of waiting to hear that 'normal' had stopped, wherein they miscategorized symptoms as normal behaviors in a passing developmental phase. Prior experience with mental illness appeared to significantly decrease both the length of time and the level of distress necessary for recognition. Ultimately, recognition did not occur until someone in their social network validated their concerns and provided explicit confirmation, which galvanized them to seek treatment. Governance network collaborations can facilitate positive social change by standardizing guidance on how to differentiate symptoms of a disorder from normal childhood development. Public policies and programs such as universal mental health screening, mental health literacy, and more supportive and responsive school policies can foster dialogue for parental recognition in Colorado and throughout the country.