A New Approach to Children’s Mental Health

It is time to look beyond labels and diagnosis, beyond medications and therapies, beyond clinics and hospitals to consider how everyday places, events, and experiences that influence mental health. A public health approach means finding health solutions that can treat many people at one time. It allows us to improve the mental health of all children and families, not just those with diagnoses. It is time for a new approach to children’s mental health.

The Problem

Only 20 percent of children who need mental health services actually receive them.

The problem can be even worse for the most vulnerable children. In economically disadvantaged communities, where the needs are often most significant, access is least likely.

Current rates of mental illness diagnoses in our country exceed the availability of mental health providers. There are 96.5 million Americans without access to quality mental health services.

The Approach

Using a public health approach for children’s mental health is a solution that is meeting needs and getting results where they are needed most. The IJR Center for Community-Based Children’s Mental Health Research and Policy proposes a three-tiered public health approach to mental health. By integrating a mental health strategy into existing community settings— schools, park districts, community centers—improvement can be focused on all children and families, not just those with diagnoses.

Learn more about the approach

The Results

The IJR Center for Community-Based Children’s Mental Health Research and Policy has two decades of experience and research integrating children’s mental health strategy into natural settings.

From training teachers to use classroom-based interventions for disruptive students to deescalating aggressive behavior on the playground before it becomes violent, we have refined a public health approach that uses resources inherent in natural community settings to achieve mental health aims alongside social, emotional, recreational and educational goals.

Today, the Center is implementing its mental health model in 16 economically disenfranchised Chicago schools serving 900 children and families. We have developed a home-based model to provide support and learning opportunities for first time parents and their children. And, we are in three Chicago parks implementing a violence prevention leadership program that recruits high school students and trains them to provide positive mentoring relationships with grade schoolers.

These models are closely monitored, evaluated, and adapted to meet the mental health needs of urban youth. They represent the future of children’s mental health.

Learn more about the models
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