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Senator Creigh Deeds wants focus on identifying mental illness in children

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RICHMOND, Va. -- State Senator Creigh Deeds spoke to the Virginia Association for Early Childhood Education Friday night at their annual conference about the importance of recognizing mental illness in children.

“The earlier you identify the mental illness, the better the chances you're going to identify a strategy for addressing the problem,” Deeds said.

Deeds’ son, Gus, who was mentally ill, attacked Deeds with a knife before killing himself back in 2013.

Since then, Deeds has been on a mission to reform mental health care.

Deeds told CBS 6 that educators play a critical role in, not only identifying children who need help, but also in creating a culture that does not stigmatize mental illness.

“We begin to break the stigma down by teaching children to be more sensitive to those differences,” Deeds said.

Deeds also said that mental health care in the Commonwealth is too reactive and centered on crisis intervention, when it needs to focus more on prevention and early intervention.

Licensed family child care provider Mary Braxton attended the VAECEF conference and said Deeds’ words resonated with her because her brother has paranoid schizophrenia.

She said she could tell there was something different about her brother when they were children.

“Attention deficit disorders, behavior issues,” Braxton said.

She said those characteristics ended up being early signs of a mental illness.

Through her work as a child care provider, Braxton said it can be easy to spot symptoms like her brother exhibited in other children.

“A lot of anger, a lot of, I'm going to describe it as blankness, they are a lovable children but there is a detached portion to them,” Braxton said.