Promoting a Community Approach for Mental Well-Being in Our Littlest Citizens [chronicleofsocialchange.org]

 

By Andrea L. Lowe, The Chronicle of Social Change, June 10, 2019.

Several years ago, my sister and I watched my 2-year-old nephew’s behavior change dramatically. He started wetting the bed, throwing temper tantrums and getting frustrated so quickly.

In any other child, it might have been normal “terrible twos,” but in him we knew something was definitely wrong. At the time, my sister and her husband were getting divorced. Ultimately, we found out that my nephew thought it was his fault, thus the acting out. This was my first exposure to the impact of family dynamics on mental health in very young children.

Infant and early childhood mental health centers on emotional well-being and the ability to form close relationships with the people around them. Scientific studies vary widely in estimates of the prevalence of mental disorders in very young children, but a recent literature review on existing evidence finds that approximately 16 to 18 percent of children from ages 1 to 5 experience a mental disorder, and half of those are severely affected.

California is fortunate to have invested significantly in public services to support young children. Looking forward, the budget of Governor Gavin Newsom (D) supports steps that will lead to universal preschool, full-day kindergarten and expanded child care subsidies across the state. In addition, it supports screening for children (and adult) Medi-Cal recipients for adverse childhood experiences every three years.

However, this begs the question: To what extent will this be helpful to our littlest citizens? Our society has done an incredible job destigmatizing mental health and stressing the importance of seeking treatment. Yet the supply of mental health providers has not kept up with increasing demand. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration predicts a national shortage in the tens of thousands in almost every type of mental health practitioner by 2025.

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