David Satcher, MD, PhD, Assistant Secretary for Health and Surgeon General, will release a National Action Agenda for Children's Mental Health, which outlines goals and strategies to improve the services for children and adolescents with mental health problems and their families. According to the report, the nation is facing a public crisis in mental health for children and adolescents.
In the United States, 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment. Yet, in any given year, it is estimated that fewer than 1 in 5 of these children receives needed treatment. The long-term consequences of untreated childhood disorders are costly, in both human and fiscal terms.
"This report provides a blueprint for change," said Dr. Satcher, "and
presents an overarching vision aimed at fostering social and emotional health
in children. The burden of suffering by children with mental health needs and
their families has created a health crisis in this country. Growing numbers
of children are suffering needlessly because their emotional, behavioral, and
developmental needs are not being met by the very institutions and systems
that were created to take care of them."
The National Action Agenda identifies eight goals and multiple action
steps, which include promoting public awareness of children's mental health
issues, reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, and improving the
assessment and recognition of mental health needs in children.
"We must educate all persons who are involved in the care of children on
how to identify early indicators for potential mental health problems. This
begins with families. We need to help families understand that these problems
are real, that they often can be prevented, and that effective treatments are
available," said Satcher. "We also need to better educate frontline providers
-- teachers, health care workers, school counselors and coaches, faith-based
workers, and clinicians of all disciplines -- to recognize mental health
issues. Finally, we need to train health care providers in scientifically-
proven, state-of-the-art approaches of assessment, treatment, and prevention."
The Surgeon General's action steps encourage the wide adoption of science-based prevention and treatment services, as well as continued research.
According to the report, bridging the gap between research and practice is not
the only step. Connecting research and practice to policy is critical to
ensuring access to quality mental health care for children and their families.
The report calls for an increase in the coordination of mental health care
services for families with mental health needs. At present, there exists no
primary mental health care system for children. Despite the existence of
mental health programs in many communities, the nation lacks a basic mental
health care infrastructure. Mental health treatments and services are
fragmented across many institutions, ranging from schools to primary care to
child welfare and often the juvenile justice system. Moreover, disparities in
access exist across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
"The multiple systems for mental health care can be very difficult to
navigate for many families," said Dr. Satcher. "In reality, services are
often just not available. The agenda in this report presents an unparalleled
opportunity to make a difference in the quality of life for all of America's
children," said Dr. Satcher. "It will take the efforts of all of us at the
Federal, State, and local level to implement the action steps outlined in this
agenda. I am confident that we will succeed."
The National Action Agenda reflects the culmination in a series of
activities over the past year, including the Surgeon General's Conference on
Children's Mental Health in September 2000. The report includes proceedings
from this conference and synthesizes recommendations from three major Federal
agencies -- the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of
Education, and the Department of Justice -- and a broad section of mental
health stakeholders -- youth and family members, professional organizations
and associations, advocacy groups, faith-based practitioners, clinicians,
educators, health care providers, and members of the scientific community and
the health care industry.
The National Action Agenda on Children's Mental Health will be available on the Surgeon General's website at http://www.surgeongeneral.com. Print copies of the report are available through the National Institute of Mental Health, Office of Communications and Public Liaison, at 301-443-4513.