Episode 3

In this episode, APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, reviews psychological research on mental health issues in young children.



Norman Anderson: Hello, and welcome to "This Is Psychology."

I'm Dr. Norman Anderson, CEO of the American Psychological Association.

Today, I want to talk about new research into the mental health of very young children, and the need for better diagnosis and care.

Contrary to popular belief, infants and toddlers can suffer serious mental health disorders. Yet, because of the pervasive but mistaken impression that this can't happen, many very young children with mental health disorders don't get the help they need.

In a special section of the APA journal American Psychologist, researchers looked at how infants and children under age 5 can develop mental health problems, and what our health-care system can do to help.

Scientists used to think that very young children didn't have a mental life. They thought such children were immune to early adversity and trauma because they are resilient and would, "grow out of it."

However, later research has shown that even very young children can react to the way they are treated, and if they are treated poorly or live in poverty, they definitely suffer — which could have lasting effects on their mental health.

In one article in this special section, Dr. Ed Tronick of the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and Dr. Marjorie Beeghly of Wayne State University found that depending on how they are treated by parents and other caregivers, some infants may start to think of themselves as helpless and hopeless, and become apathetic, depressed and withdrawn.

Psychologists Dr. Joy Osofsky of Louisiana State University and Dr. Alicia Lieberman of the University of California-San Francisco found that because early childhood mental health has very few practitioners, it is often difficult for parents to find the help they need.

And if parents do find such help, the cost of preventive services or treatments for children under the age of 3 may not be covered by insurance or other resources.

The researchers had several recommendations:

One was to expand early screening for infants and toddlers to detect mental health issues, such as relationship disorders, depression and self-regulation problems.

Another recommendation was to train professionals in mental health, pediatrics, early childhood education, child welfare and other related professions to recognize risk factors, and ensure that curricula at all levels include content on infant mental health.

They also recommended that we integrate infant mental health consultations into programs for parents, child care, early education, well-child health services and home-based services.

And finally, they recommended that we address insurance and Medicaid payment policies to provide coverage for prevention and treatment of mental health issues for infants and toddlers.

For more information on this subject, and to read any of these important papers, please visit our website at apa.org.

And thanks for watching "This is Psychology."