By Erika Edwards, NBC News

The Connecticut shootings have sparked a nationwide conversation about mental health.

Is there help for the most troubled among us?

The answer can be yes, but it's often hard to access.

Liza Long's writings about her own experiences went viral after the Connecticut shootings, a byproduct of a country desperate for insight into the mentally unstable.

"I love my son, but he terrifies me," Long wrote.

According to the Child Mind Institute in New York less than half of the 15 million children and teens with a psychiatric disorder get any kind of professional help.

To that point, there was no official mental health diagnosis for Adam Lanza. There is no known record of psychiatric care for him.

Most are not prone to violence, but one stumbling block to care is stigma.

"These illnesses are real, they're common, and they're treatable. And yet, in the U.S. we treat diseases from the neck up differently than we do the rest of the body," says Child Mind Institute president Dr. Howard Koplewicz.

Then there's lack of access to qualified child psychiatric care, something most schools are not equipped to handle.

"Many parents who are struggling with children who have very severe behavioral of emotional symptoms go to emergency rooms. And emergency rooms are a Band-Aid," Dr. Koplewicz says.

Child psychiatrists say insurance reimbursement rates for mental health services are low.

"There are many psychiatrists in private practice who want to see more patients, but who are unable to because of the reimbursement system," notes Dr. Eitan Schwarz, a child psychiatrist with Northwestern Medicine.

This combination of issues has led to a collective wringing of hands.

The violence has led to a sharper focus on how to get the professional help to those who need it.

Experts in children's psychiatry say the first thing parents should do if they suspect a child has a mental health problem is call their pediatrician.

Read or Share this story: