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The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents

By Elaine Cassel

According to a report released in January 2001 by Surgeon General of the United States David Satcher, one in ten children and adolescents in the United States suffers from a mental illness serious enough to cause some level of impaired functioning. Yet only one in five of these children receive treatment, leaving those untreated facing possible emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems and developmental delays. In addition, lack of intervention has long-term ramifications for their families and society.

The National Action Agenda on Children's Mental Health identifies goals and action plans to meet the mental health needs of children and their families. They include:
  • promoting public awareness of children's mental health issues
  • improving the assessment and recognition of children's mental health needs
  • educating parents, caregivers, healthcare professionals, school counselors, teachers, and clinicians in how to identify early indicators of mental health problems
  • training clinicians in assessment, prevention, and treatment options that have empirically-based efficacy measures
  • bridging the gap between mental health research and prevention, intervention, and treatment
  • coordination of mental health care services for families and children
  • continued efforts to remove the stigma attached to mental illness
One of the largest challenges is the coordination of mental health services—a problem for all citizens. At the heart of this dilemma is the lack of any mental health infrastructure in this country. Although there are mental health treatment programs in many communities, the accessibility and quality of services is not consistent across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Geography is also a limiting factor. Services in rural areas are sparse, compared to those available in major cities and middle-class suburban communities.

Participants in the children's mental health agenda included the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Justice; youth and family members; professional organizations; advocacy groups; clinicians; educators; health care providers; the health care industry; and researchers. The focus on children's mental health is the latest in a series of mental health agendas Satcher has spearheaded during his tenure as Surgeon General. Previous initiatives addressed the state of the nation's mental health and suicide as a growing public health problem.

The National Action Agenda on Children's Mental Health is available on the Surgeon General's website at

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