In the United States, 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment. Yet, in any given year, it is estimated that fewer than 1 in 5 of these children receives needed treatment. The long-term consequences of untreated childhood disorders are costly, in both human and fiscal terms.
"This report provides a blueprint for change," said Dr. Satcher, "and presents an overarching vision aimed at fostering social and emotional health in children. The burden of suffering by children with mental health needs and their families has created a health crisis in this country. Growing numbers of children are suffering needlessly because their emotional, behavioral, and developmental needs are not being met by the very institutions and systems that were created to take care of them."
The National Action Agenda identifies eight goals and multiple action steps, which include promoting public awareness of children's mental health issues, reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, and improving the assessment and recognition of mental health needs in children.
"We must educate all persons who are involved in the care of children on how to identify early indicators for potential mental health problems. This begins with families. We need to help families understand that these problems are real, that they often can be prevented, and that effective treatments are available," said Satcher. "We also need to better educate frontline providers teachers, health care workers, school counselors and coaches, faith-based workers, and clinicians of all disciplines to recognize mental health issues. Finally, we need to train health care providers in scientifically-proven, state-of-the-art approaches of assessment, treatment, and prevention."
The Surgeon General's action steps encourage the wide adoption of science-based prevention and treatment services, as well as continued research. According to the report, bridging the gap between research and practice is not the only step. Connecting research and practice to policy is critical to ensuring access to quality mental health care for children and their families.
The report calls for an increase in the coordination of mental health care services for families with mental health needs. At present, there exists no primary mental health care system for children. Despite the existence of mental health programs in many communities, the nation lacks a basic mental health care infrastructure. Mental health treatments and services are fragmented across many institutions, ranging from schools to primary care to child welfare and often the juvenile justice system. Moreover, disparities in access exist across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
"The multiple systems for mental health care can be very difficult to navigate for many families," said Dr. Satcher. "In reality, services are often just not available. The agenda in this report presents an unparalleled opportunity to make a difference in the quality of life for all of America's children," said Dr. Satcher. "It will take the efforts of all of us at the Federal, State, and local level to implement the action steps outlined in this agenda. I am confident that we will succeed."
The National Action Agenda reflects the culmination in a series of activities over the past year, including the Surgeon General's Conference on Children's Mental Health in September 2000. The report includes proceedings from this conference and synthesizes recommendations from three major Federal agencies the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Department of Justice and a broad section of mental health stakeholders youth and family members, professional organizations and associations, advocacy groups, faith-based practitioners, clinicians, educators, health care providers, and members of the scientific community and the health care industry.
The National Action Agenda on Children's Mental Health is available on the Surgeon General's website at www.surgeongeneral.gov. Print copies of the report are available through the National Institute of Mental Health, Office of Communications and Public Liaison, at (301) 443-4513.