May is Mental Health Awareness Month

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention shared that supporting the mental health needs of children starts early in childhood and can have lifelong impacts on overall health and wellbeing. Parents, communities, schools, and healthcare providers all play a role in addressing the mental health needs of children, but often separately, with limited coordination and collaboration.

The Children’s Mental Health Champions aim to address the needs of children with or at risk for mental disorders by building the foundation for a stronger, more inclusive mental health system for children. The Champions share common program goals, but each has its own approach that best fits the population they serve.

Background

Childhood is a critical period that shapes long-term health and well-being, and half of all lifelong mental disorders start by the age of 14 yearsexternal icon. To support lifelong mental health, it is important to prevent problems, identify concerns early, and provide effective treatment. Parents, communities, schools, and healthcare providers all play a role in addressing the mental health needs of children to reduce problem behaviors and support child development. Many families face barriers when trying to access evidence-based prevention and intervention programs.

Through a cooperative agreement, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)external icon and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), started the Children’s Mental Health Champions program. The pilot program expanded from 6 Champions in 2020–2021 to 12 champions in 2021–2022. The current 12 Champions work within 11 states and territories as liaisons to CDC’s children’s mental health work and positive parenting resources.

Right now, many professionals work on children’s mental health, but separately, with limited coordination. Building off the successful Act Early Ambassador model, the Champions aim to address the needs of children with or at risk for mental disorders by building the foundation for a stronger, more inclusive mental health system for children.

Goals of the Children’s Mental Health Champions Project

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, data trends showed that child and adolescent mental health was a significant and growing concern in the US. During the pandemic, children have had to cope with disruptions in learning, healthcare, and daily routines. Many have felt a loss of security and safety, which puts them at additional risk for adverse mental health symptoms. The pandemic has also highlighted disparities in mental health care access among racial and ethnic groups, and among communities with different levels of resources. In December 2021, the US Surgeon General and leading pediatric health organizations declared a children’s mental health crisisexternal icon.

The Children’s Mental Health Champions address the mental health needs of children and families by supporting one or more of the three pillars of the program:

  1. Connecting and creating family-school-healthcare-community partnerships.
  2. Identifying and intervening to ensure early identification and evidence-based treatment of children’s mental health needs.
  3. Preventing mental disorders and promoting mental health by sharing information and making sure there are prevention programs in multiple settings (such as schools, childcare, and home) to support parents and caregivers.

To read the entire article, click here.

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