A New Approach to Children’s Mental Health

The Center for Community-Based Children’s Mental Health Research and Policy proposes a three-tiered public health approach to mental health, including:

Universal: A model of mental health promotion at the universal level emphasizes leveraging community settings (schools, park districts, community centers) to meet mental health needs. Inherent in most of these settings are opportunities to foster skills, develop relationships, and engage in healthy functioning. Empowering front-line workers and increasing organizational capability will enhance the ability for these settings to deliver the highest quality services. (See some of these models in action)

Targeted: These interventions prioritize care for high-risk groups. Children of parents with mental illness, families living in poverty, or individuals exhibiting early symptoms constitute this high-risk category. Targeted interventions can be integrated into primary care offices, emergency rooms, social service agencies, and schools. (Our school-based model illustrates how a targeted approach can work)

Intensive: Current rates of mental illness diagnoses in our country exceed the availability of mental health providers. In the same way nutrition, exercise, and wellness programs can have an impact on diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer providing the universal and targeted interventions can decrease the number of mental health disorders, individuals exhibiting symptoms, and more severe impairments.

Trying to restructure the current approach, revising psychotherapy, no matter how innovatively, addresses a small part of the problem. It does not consider the poor. It does not look at the most vulnerable populations. It does not think of social determinants that can make communities more susceptible or make issues worse. Only a comprehensive and integrated public health model can address the pervasive societal problems and inequalities that underlie our country’s mental health needs. (Learn more)