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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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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