In the Public Interest

Anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent of our nation's youth—about 15 million young people—meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental health disorder. Clearly, the need for the best available professional care is immense. However, for children and teens with a recognized disorder, only 20 percent to 30 percent may receive any specialized mental healthcare in a given year, and less than half will ever receive help in their lifetimes. These disparities are even more pronounced for youth in low-income communities and within the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Unaddressed mental and behavioral health needs have damaging implications for our children's individual long-term success, as well as for society as a whole. This month, as we recognize Children's Mental Health Awareness Week (May 6–12), I would like to highlight the vital work that the Public Interest Directorate does to address their mental health needs.

APA's resolution on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child supports the rights of every child to human dignity and the potential to realize his or her full capacities. PI ensures that children's mental health needs are a priority for the association in a variety of ways. PI's Children, Youth, and Families Office (CYFO) coordinates APA's public interest, health, human welfare and social responsibility activities relevant to children, teens and families. For more than 25 years, CYFO has supported APA's Committee on Children, Youth and Families, as well as a series of task forces and working groups to produce public policy statements, reports and consumer resources on a range of topics (e.g., the importance of early mental health interventions, bullying prevention, evidence-based practice with children and adolescents, psychotropic medications for children and adolescents, promotion of healthy eating and physical activity in children, and the mental health needs of immigrant children and families).

Other offices in the directorate work to address children's mental health issues as well. For more than 10 years, the Violence Prevention Office (VPO) has run the ACT (Adults and Children Together) Parents Raising Safe Kids program, which educates parents and caregivers of young children on how to create early environments that protect them from violence. ACT has expanded to more than 20 states, Puerto Rico, Greece, Cyprus, Peru and Colombia. VPO also recently launched Effective Providers for Child Victims of Violence, which trains service providers to respond to the needs of children and teens exposed to violence. In addition, PI's Women's Programs Office and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns Office have produced resources related to the sexualization of girls, trafficking of women and girls, marriage and family issues for same-sex couples, and the healthy growth and full development of LGBT youth. PI's Government Relations Office provides science-based information and recommendations to Congress and the White House related to promoting safe schools and preventing bullying; the effects of child abuse, particularly regarding mandatory reporting requirements and evidence-based treatment to help children and families recover; and supporting the continued work of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.   

Lastly, PI's engagement in the nationwide Speak Up for Kids Campaign is an example of cross-association collaboration on children's mental health with our colleagues in Practice and Public and Member Communications. During Children's Mental Health Awareness Week, APA will partner with the Child Mind Institute, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and other groups to recruit and deploy children's mental health professionals to educate their local communities on the signs and symptoms of various mental disorders in children and teens. PI has helped to recruit several APA members to speak to parents, caregivers and teachers around the country about the mental and behavioral health issues related to the raising of healthy, happy children and teens.

To learn more about the work of the Public Interest Directorate on children's mental health and other issues, please visit our website and follow me on Twitter (@DrGwenPKeita).