Children’s Mental Health and the Role of Psychologists

Children’s mental health continues to be neglected even with growing scientific evidence of the importance of mental health in children’s development, of the value of early intervention, particularly within primary developmental systems such as pediatric care and school, and of the efficacy of interventions for children who are at risk of or exhibiting substantial mental health problems.

Existing epidemiological studies indicate that approximately 20 percent of children experience the signs and symptoms that constitute a psychological disorder, with approximately 7 percent evidencing extreme functional impairment.1

If not identified early and provided with appropriate and proven treatment options, children may go on to bully others, show chronic school failure, engage in serious delinquency, use violence repeatedly, and as adults commit crimes, abuse substances, and face employment and relationship failures.3

Children in rural areas are more vulnerable to particular risk factors which have an impact on their mental and physical health.

  • Many families who live in rural areas also live in poverty which makes access to health care challenging.

  • Rural families live at a farther distance from health care facilities, making access to needed services even more difficult.2

There are four suggested principles that can guide a comprehensive system which simultaneously promotes mental health within normal developmental settings, provides aid for emerging mental health issues for children, targets high risk youths with prevention, and provides effective treatment for disorders:

  • Children and their families should be able to access appropriate and effective mental health services directly.

  • Child mental health should be a major component of healthy development promotion and attention in primary care settings such as schools, pediatric care, community programs, and other systems central to child development.

  • Efforts should emphasize preventive care for high risk children and families.

  • More attention must be paid to cultural context and cultural competence.1

Estimates suggest that every dollar invested in providing multisystemic therapy to delinquent adolescents returns $7-$31 in savings across the life span.1

70-80 percent of youth reporting use of Mental Health services say they receive them in schools.3

What Is the Role of Doctoral Level School Psychologists?

  • School Psychologists provide a range of services including: assessment of abilities (i.e. achievement, socials and emotional functioning, personality, and developmental status), intervention, prevention, health promotion, crisis intervention, and program development and evaluation services with a special focus on the developmental processes of children and youth within the context of schools, families, and other systems.

  • School Psychologists consult with teachers on learning and behavior needs of students and develop educational environments that meet those needs.

  • They intervene to improve organizations and develop effective partnerships between parents, educators, and other caretakers.4


  1. Dodge, Kenneth; Tolan, Patrick. Children’s Mental Health as a Primary Care and Concern. September 2005. American Psychologist.

  2. The National Survey of Children’s Health. The Health and Well-Being of Children in Rural Areas: A Portrait of the Nation. (2005) 

  3. Hoagwood, Kimberly. Restructuring the Children’s Mental Health System: Four Challenges and Recommended Strategies. Columbia University. Presented as part of the American Psychological Assocation Congressional Briefing: Childrens Mental Health: Key Challenges, Strategies, and Effective Solutions. October 10, 2007 

  4. American Psychological Association. Division of School Psychology. Retrieved on March 24, 2008 from