Promoting Awareness of Children's Mental Health Issues

Background

Child and adolescent mental health problems are at a point of crisis for our nation. One out of every ten children or adolescents has a serious mental health problem, and another 10% have mild to moderate problems. Mental health problems in young people can lead to tragic consequences, including suicide, substance abuse, inability to live independently, involvement with the correctional system, failure to complete high school, lack of vocational success, and health problems.

There is a lack of mental health services for children and adolescents. Less than half of children with mental health problems get treatment, services, or support. Only one in five get treatment from a mental health worker with special training to work with children. Families that are poor, are people of color, or have children with other disabilities or health concerns have an especially difficult time getting services that would identify, prevent or treat mental health problems.

Children and adolescents with mental health problems are usually involved with more than one agency or service system, including mental health, special education, child welfare, juvenile justice, substance abuse, and health. However, no agency or system usually takes responsibility for coordinating their care or prevents them from falling through the cracks and not getting needed services.

The costs of mental health problems in children are great for our country. They affect the children, adolescents and their families, as well as schools, communities, employers and the nation as a whole.

Talking Points

The importance of child and adolescent mental health problems must be recognized and stigma about mental health issues reduced:

  • Mental health problems must be considered to be just as important as physical health problems by health care providers, and as significant as learning problems by educators. Mental health assessment and care needs to be integrated into children's overall healthcare and education.

  • Children's development of good social, emotional, and behavioral well-being needs to be a general part of their overall healthy development. Parents, educators, and health providers need to learn the best ways to encourage healthy social and emotional development.

  • There must be a greater effort for early recognition of mental health needs of children and adolescents and greater awareness of warning signs. Early identification of mental health problems needs to be encouraged in preschool, childcare, education, health, welfare, and juvenile justice settings, and substance abuse treatment programs. Staff in these programs must develop a greater awareness of the early warning signs of mental health problems, what to do about them, and where to make referrals for further assistance.

  • We have many effective ways to treat and prevent mental health problems in children and adolescents. There is a need to get information about the best methods to people working with and treating children and adolescents. There remains a need for further research to develop new social, behavioral, pharmacological and multiple treatment approaches that work effectively.