Since the late 1990s the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study or ACES has been breaking new ground in understanding children's mental health. It's led to the discovery that childhood trauma can cause physical diseases, depression, mental illness, and violence later in life.
Local mental health experts say nearly 80,000 children in Bexar County live with a mental illness. They also say there is no one-size-fits-all reason why. However, between genetic components and traumatic events big or small, doctors say you can find the core issues."
Ed Dickey and his wife never expected to become advocates for mental health so late in life.
"I expected my retirement to go in a very different direction," Ed said. "Our two birth children, our family life was like a ride in Disney Land. Everything was happy and fun and cheerful and very predictable."
What wasn’t predictable was their daughter's mental health issues in college and their three adopted sons' mental health illnesses.
"It was fraught with a lot of difficulties, with tension, with unexpected problems at school, relationships," Ed said.
As a family, the Dickeys got help through Clarity Child Guidance Center and are now the faces of the Texas chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, or NAMI.
Over the years, the reasons behind their children's issues became clearer. They believe their adopted sons inherited a tendency for mental illness from their birth mother. A genetic predisposition made worse by the breakup of their birth family.
The experts and the ACE study back up that theory.
"If a child experiences trauma and it goes untreated and we're not taking care of that child's mental health development, they at more risk of mental health issues,” Rebecca Helterbrand with Clarity Child Guidance Center said. “Interestingly, the study then correlated that to physical health."
As for their daughter, the Dickeys say her story helps break another stigma.
"Mental illness does not discriminate,” Helterbrand said. “You can be a person living in 78209 in Alamo Heights with all the advantages that wealth may bring or it could also strike someone on another side of town."
Clarity is a nonprofit that treats roughly 8,000 children a year. Often times, there is a waiting list because the demand is so high. Clarity is expanding its facility so it can treat even more people in the future. Clarity is adding 14 additional inpatient beds--six beds for psychiatric emergency services for kids, and a larger outpatient center. NAMI Texas is working with patients and their parents to continue outreach through conversation in the community.