The importance of good emotional and mental health for children and youth

Many people are aware of the importance of teaching their children about safety. These conversations typically center on teaching kids how to protect their physical safety and prevent accidents.

What is less well-understood is the importance of also teaching children and young adults about the importance of good emotional and mental health. These conversations are so important because understanding how to prevent or protect against the potential negative effects of experiencing violence and trauma can go a long way in preventing the early onset or severity of mental heath issues and disorders early in life.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) 50 percent of mental illnesses are developed before age 14, and about 80 percent of people with both mental health and substance abuse disorders reported the onset occurring before the age of 20. Data from 2008 also shows that the prevalence of serious mental illnesses is highest among youth 18-25.

Another dangerous problem that may inhibit discussions with youth about mental health is a misunderstanding about what good mental health and awareness actually means. Data from a U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report states that over 45 million people suffer from different mental illnesses in the U.S. and less than 40 percent receive help or treatment. It also shows that there is a cultural stigma associated with discussing mental health and a significant percentage of Americans that may have needed treatment have not received any. There is the assumption that they will suffer negative social consequences for discussing their issues.

Disorders and problems linked to mental health and substance abuse are shown as a serious public health issue affecting youth and adults across the United States. The emotional and monetary costs and burden of treating mental health problems are high for the individual, family and community. Data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’ (AHRQ) spanning a ten year period from 1996-2006 shows this significant rise in Americans paying for and using mental health services. The total expenditure on services also rose 63.4% over this period.











These rising costs have placed a greater focus on methods and practices promoting prevention across different settings. Interventions and best practices to help younger populations combat this threat have emerged in environments like schools and the child welfare system to address the broader needs of the diverse populations that they serve.

The Children’s Trust Partnership summarizes the need for action in promoting the emotional well-being of youth in the following ideas:

  1. The good emotional health of children and young people is vital to them as individuals
  2. The good emotional health of children and young people is vital to society
  3. We know what works in improving emotional health
  4. Developing these approaches and interventions should save money later
  5. Developing these approaches should help meet other priorities in communities
  6. This is not a new policy area

Read more about this case for action here.

The Safe Start Center also supports the promotion of interventions to improve positive behavioral and emotional health in children and young adults.

Understanding Children’s Exposure to Violence Brief #1 shares some ideas about program types and interventions that can both enhance resilience and reduce risks for children and young adults exposed to violence and traumatic events.

  • For all children, participation in high-quality early care and education programs can enhance physical, cognitive, and social development and promote readiness and capacity to succeed in school.
  • For at-risk families, early identification of and intervention with high-risk children by early education programs and schools, pediatric care and mental health programs, child welfare systems, and court and law enforcement agencies can prevent threats to healthy development by detecting and addressing emerging problems.
  • For children and families already exposed to violence, intensive intervention programs delivered in the home and in the community can improve outcomes for children well into the adult years and can generate benefits to society that far exceed program costs.
  • Outcomes improve when highly skilled practitioners provide intensive trauma-focused psychotherapeutic interventions to stop the negative chain reaction following exposure to traumatic stressors (e.g., child abuse and neglect, homelessness, severe maternal depression, domestic violence).

For further information check out the full issue brief here. Please continue to join us this week and month as we continue to promote awareness about the importance of good mental and emotional health!


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