OTTUMWA — The system for children's mental health in Iowa leaves something to be desired, say moms and elected officials.

So what's wrong with the system in place now?

"What system?" answered Wapello County Supervisor Steve Siegel.

In other words, he explained, there really is no system in place to help children who are mentally ill.

"In Iowa, our mental health system, until recently, was run by the counties with assistance by the state," said Siegel, who is the behavioral health liaison for the board. "But it was geared toward adults. The children have no coordinated mental health program."

Now, the mental health system has been redesigned.

Tammy Nyden, co-chair of the Coalition for Children's Mental Health Redesign in Iowa, said even with the updated system, something was left out.

"When they did the mental health redesign, there was nothing done for children," said Nyden. "There was a work group on children, and none of the recommendations were followed."

So this month, they'll go before the Iowa Legislature.

According to Iowa's chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the coalition is a group of individuals and organizations with expertise (and in many cases, personal, at-home experience) in children's mental health and well-being. It was organized by NAMI's committee for children in partnership with the Iowa Mental Health Planning and Advisory Council.

"We need to, as a state, make a commitment to the well-being of our children," said Nyden. "This is group of mostly moms; we're coordinating this strategic plan for children's mental health because state government didn't. The urgency we felt? It's because we [parents] are dealing with children who are dealing with mental health issues."

Treatment can make all the difference, she said.

These illnesses are brain disorders. But unlike a child with a kidney disorder, brain disorders don't draw compassion. If a child is in the hospital due to kidney failure, neighbors may bring a casserole. That doesn't happen very often when a child is hospitalized due to mental illness, Nyden said.

"If you look at the adult mental health system," she said, "at least it recognizes you need to help them with employment, with housing. Children have different needs; we need a children's system. We recommend a systems change in the next five years. But we give recommendations for incremental changes. "

We also, she said, need to make a concerted effort to recruit medical students into psychiatry, especially children's psychiatry.

Siegel said he knew of no children's psychiatrists in Wapello County. The last one who was here departed years ago. And while any psychiatrist — or family doctor — can prescribe medication to help a child, Siegel said children's behavioral health services are a very specialized area of study.

"We definitely need the governor and legislators to fund mental health services," said Nyden. "Republicans and Democrats might disagree with how to solve the problems, but we want the conversation about children's mental health services to [move forward] — and the political will to do something about it."

One piece of potentially good news for the coalition is that, once again, the governor approved a Children's Mental Health and Well-Being Work Group.

"That's at least something," acknowledged Nyden.

"Whatever we can do to improve mental health services for children," said Siegel, "would be a step in the right direction."

— To contact reporter Mark Newman, email or follow his Twitter page @couriermark

Coalition for Children’s Mental Health

IOWA CITY — The coalition on children's mental health issues offers a bit of support for parents.

Tammy Nyden, co-chair of NAMI's Coalition for Children's Mental Health Redesign in Iowa, said like many other NAMI initiatives, this form of assistance is parents helping parents.

"We do have an online, statewide support group," she said.

It may not be the best way to meet or to get help, but "it's something," she said.

"We call it NAMI Iowa Casserole Club. A lot of us have had kids who have had a physical injury or illness; you do get a casserole [from friends or neighbors]. When your child is mentally ill, there is no casserole. So this is a type of virtual casserole."

The groups within the NICC support page (pronounced like a friend in the NICC of time, Nyden said) are trying to put together area support groups that can meet face to face.

This isn't an online group for the general public, just those who feel they can use the support, understanding and experience of other parents who have gone through similar situations. It uses Facebook for "meetings."

"To sign up, people can email me, put the word 'subscribe' in the subject line," Nyden said. "These parents need support."

Her email address is


Recommended for you