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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Mental Health, Wellness, and Children

Let’s recap:

This month has been about promoting mental health and children’s mental health awareness. We’ve talked about National Children’s Mental Health Week and National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. We’ve also had guest expert blogs about the importance of children’s mental health and the impact of stress on children.

But what is the most important thing to remember and take away from all of this?

Well, prevention and wellness are key!

“Research has shown that children have a wide range of reactions to exposure to violence. Some children are not adversely affected or may show only brief and transient reactions. Others may be more affected, showing significant symptoms and emotional vulnerability. Some develop intense anxiety disorders or posttraumatic stress disorder.” –Safe Start Issue Brief 1, p. 2

The most important thing is the overall well-being of these children.  The protection of their well-being is achieved by building resilience and preventing exposure.

One way of doing this is through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Public Health Model. It provides a great way to start and complete the process of enhancing children’s well-being. By framing it this way, there is a body of proof about building resilience and prevention, it provides the means for identifying those at higher risk, and develops and tests strategies for dissemination to communities. The most important thing is the overall well-being of these children.  The protection of their well-being is achieved by building resilience and preventing exposure.

 

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 exposed to violence.

  • 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.

So, the best thing we can do to promote children’s wellness is to continue to work to raise awareness to identify those at-risk and advance interventions!

Mental Health and the Juvenile Justice System

By Elena Cohen
Director, Safe Start Center

Most youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system have been exposed to both community and family violence and many have been threatened with, or been the direct target of, such violence. We know that youth who have multiple exposures to violence or victimization are at higher risk for mental health problems, behavioral problems, substance abuse, and delinquent behaviors.   The effect of exposure to violence is cumulative: the greater the number and type of victimization experiences that a child experiences, the greater the risks to a child’s development and his or her emotional and physical health.

Youth who are victimized by abuse, and are exposed to other forms of violence, often lose their trust in the adults who are either responsible for perpetrating the abuse or who fail to protect them. Victimization is a violation of our social contract with youth and can create a deep disregard both for adults in general and the rules that adults have set. Distrust and disregard for adults, rules, and laws place youth at a much greater risk for delinquency and other inappropriate behaviors.

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Children and Stress

Today we join the American Psychological Association’s Menthal Health Blog Party with a Q&A with Dr. Mary Alvord, a Maryland-based psychologist and member of the APA.

1.      Can you give our readers a little background on how constant or frequent stress impacts children’s health?

Data collected from the 2009 and 2010 Stress in America survey indicates that stress takes a physical toll on kids.  Tweens and teens report that they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep all night, experience headaches and stomach aches or upset stomach, either eat too little or too much in response to stress and feel angry a lot of the time.

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Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

Exposure to violence has the potential to harm any child’s mental health. As is discussed in Healing the Invisible Wounds: Children’s Exposure to Violence, when they’ve been exposed to violence, it can be hard to tell if anything is wrong because exposure doesn’t leave physical signs such as cuts and bruises. In these cases, children can suffer from “invisible wounds” that affect them emotionally and psychologically.

Warning signs can range from nightmares and a change in eating habits to hyper or aggressive behavior and can depend on their age, how close they are to the violence and their relationship with the victim and the perpetrator of violence.

So today, Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, we want to continue to spread the word that there are numerous outside influences that can impact a child’s mental health and exposure to violence is definitely one of them.

Today we’re attending SAMHSA awareness day events in DC. Please follow us on Twitter throughout the day where we’ll have live coverage of the events.

In the meantime, here are some resources on exposure to violence/trauma and children’s mental health.

Healing the Invisible Wounds: Children’s Exposure to Violence
Safe Start Center’s informational booklet on exposure to violence for families and caregivers.

National Institute of Mental Health: Children’s Mental Health Awareness
A plethora of publications, studies, videos, etc. on children’s mental health.

Child Mind Institute: Speak Up for Kids
Speak Up For Kids encourages local mental health professionals to host talks in their communities about children’s mental health. Here you can find information for your community and virtual talks through the month.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Early Childhood Materials – Trauma Resources
This site lists fact sheets, reports and PSAs related to children and trauma. Includes resources from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and Zero to Three.

American Psychological Association
The organization has many resources for all related to children’s mental health

Guest post: Join the Movement to Promote Children’s Mental Health

By Joy Spencer, Policy and Research Assistant for the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health. Their website features tons of resources and information about their efforts.

The first full week in May is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week!  Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week is dedicated to increasing public awareness about the triumphs and challenges in children’s mental health, emphasizing the importance of family and youth involvement and leadership in the mental health movement.

Children’s mental health matters. Emotional, behavioral, mental health and substance abuse needs cut across all income, educational, geographical, religious and other cultural groups.  One in five young people have one or more emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenges.  One in ten youth have challenges severe enough to impair how they function at home, school, or within the community. [1] And 80 percent of people who experience mental health or substance use challenges report onset before the age of 20.[2]

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Mental Health in Young Children: Why Early Experiences Matter

We’re kicking off Mental Health Month with a discussion about how difficult situations experienced as a child can set people off on a negative path in life. Charles Zeanah, M.D. , Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Tulane University School of Medicine, and other researchers, argue that negative experiences in childhood can change the architecture of a person’s brain, setting them up for mental health problems or other issues in the future.

Below are clips of his talk for the Academic Distinction Fund’s Distinguished Speakers Series last month.

While Dr. Zeanah doesn’t specifically discuss exposure to violence, he does explain that “Adverse early experiences may have long term consequences, affecting not only mental health, but physical health… Genetics supplies the basic blue print for brain development. But experiences that the individual child has adjusts the genetic brain plan of the brain and shapes the architecture of its neuro-circuits.”

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