A frequent thought that often emerges in our minds when we see an adult we deem dysfunctional is, what was their childhood like? Where were their parents? The truth of the matter is that for many of these adults, there might’ve been an element of neglect but many times they may have had perfectly good parents who happened to be uninformed. At times tragedy comes about despite the most benevolent circumstances and it often boils down to lack of knowledge, especially when it comes to mental health.
Now, many experiences can lead to future physical and mental health problems in children. According to Mental Health America, Adverse Childhood Experiences correlate to the likelihood a child will experience trouble with mental or physical health. The more adverse childhood experiences a child has, the likelier they are to be negatively affected by them in the future.
So a parent might think, well my child doesn’t fall into any of these categories, could they still experience mental health issues? The answer is yes. Even if you’re counting out familial history, which is an important element, sometimes mental health issues arise seemingly out of thin air. My point being, we don’t always have full control of the outcome of our children’s futures. Mental health conditions, although lengthily scrutinized still remain somewhat of an enigma. What we do know is that if children are taught about mental health, given familial and social support, and access to care we have the foundation for happier, healthier adults.
To better illustrate this I’d like to start off with a brief and hopefully painless psychology lesson. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition we find that disorders can be separated into two categories. These are internalizing and externalizing disorders. Internalizing disorders are disorders where the individual tends to internalize their problems. So for example, this can include anxiety, depression, trauma related disorders, etc. Externalizing disorders, while not explicitly distinguished in the DSM-5, are those where maladaptive thoughts or emotions manifest in the individual’s behavior (i.e., ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder).
In a study conducted in Australia, the effectiveness of select evidence-based intervention programs on children with internalizing behaviors were evaluated. One of them specifically was Cool Little Kids, which “aims to build preschool children’s resilience to situational fears and distressing worries. It teaches parents strategies to modify their preschool child’s fear and distress, as well as their own (if relevant).” The children who were part of the intervention experienced significantly fewer anxiety disorders by age 5 (50% vs. 64%), even less by age 7 (40% vs. 69%).
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states 1 in 5 American children may have a diagnosable mental illness, but only 20% of that statistic ever receives treatment. A lack of intervention can lead to suicide, problems with law enforcement, homelessness etc. In fact, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among 10-24 years olds in the United States. According to the AACAP again, communities that implemented preventative systems had a decrease of 54% in the number of children using in-patient facilities, and the number of youth who attempted suicide or harmed themselves decreased by 32% after a year of care.
These statistics provides us enough evidence to support that early childhood prevention and intervention are causes worth standing for. You don’t have to be parent to know the value of taking care of our nation’s, and the world’s children. Their future inevitably becomes ours, and there’s a power in paving a safer road for future generations.
Imagine a society that holds true to these values. Imagine a world where all children are taught they can accomplish anything.