Parkland Tragedy Puts Focus on Mental Health of Children

More parents are taking a look at the mental health of their own children after the mass shooting in Parkland last month but the search for the right doctor and diagnosis isn’t always easy.

The 911 calls made from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz’s home shows a long history of mental health issues. Back in 2013, his mother Lynda Cruz told deputies he had a “history of mental illness."

"We are truly seeing a great number of these kids,” said Dr. Julia Harper, an occupational therapist and psychologist at TheraPeeds Family Center in Davie.

"I really got frustrated when Parkland happened," said Dr. Harper. "I live in Broward, my son is in high school, it could’ve been his school."

Dr. Harper hasn’t treated Cruz or had access to his personal records but she’s noticing a trend.

"I’ve seen a pattern, many of these mass shooters have histories of learning problems and emotional problems,” she said.

Dr. Harper treats dozens of children and their families every week for a variety of issues at her center in Davie. She said parents need to take action early.

"Let’s stop with this thoughts and prayers nonsense and let’s pay attention to what is creating this problem,” said Dr. Harper.

She works with children and their families who are diagnosed with Processing Disorders. It’s an underlying problem in how the brain functions.

“When you are working in a broken brain, you process the world differently,” she said. "One in 25 people have processing disorders, we don’t have 1 in 25 shootings, we have one in hundreds of thousands, but the bottom line is, he could’ve gotten help."

She said the key is to try and spot developmental changes in your child early and ask for help.

Stacey Schrager says she first knew her son had a problem when he was in the third grade. He was failing in school and his room was beyond disorganized.

"It was just around and around of heartache and depression for him," said Stacey Schrager. "He felt stupid, he felt he couldn’t do anything right."

As a mother she struggled for years to find him the right help.

"We are all told to go and have your psychological evaluation and then go get therapy but nobody is telling you there’s really a brain issue here," said Schrager.

Her son was recently diagnosed with a processing disorder and she said he’s getting the help he needs.

"You feel the stigma of mental health, you feel that your child may not be good enough as everyone else’s,” said Schrager. “Inside this child was crumbling and now there’s a light, he wants to do better.”

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