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To CDC on children's mental health: consider office of homeland attachment security

Posted by Claudia M Gold  May 16, 2013 10:04 PM

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Change is in the air for children's mental health care. The latest CDC (Center for Disease Control) special supplement to the MMWR (morbidity and mortality weekly report) is titled Mental Health Surveilance Among Children-United States 2005-2011. The report overview states:
Approximately $247 billion is spent each year on children’s mental health.  The mental health of children is critical to their overall health as children and as they grow into adults.
The report summary concludes:
More comprehensive surveillance is needed to develop a public health approach that will both help prevent mental disorders and promote mental health among children.
This report coincides with both the release of DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) 5, and a statement by the director of the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) that research funding would not be guided by DSM diagnoses, and that a new paradigm of mental health care is needed.

The time has come to recognize the overwhelming evidence regarding the importance of early relationships in healthy emotional development. The answer to the problem posed in the CDC report is in: invest in early childhood -from newborn to three- to prevent mental health disorders and promote mental health.

A huge part of this evidence comes from the CDC itself, with the ACES study, showing long-term negative impact on both physical and emotional health of a range of adverse childhood experiences.  An abundance of research coming from the discipline of infant mental health provides a more nuanced view of this issue. 

 When parents are supported and valued by society, they are able to be fully present with their children, in turn helping to grow healthy brains. Children who grow up in an attuned caregiving environment are flexible, resilient, and empathic.  In contrast, when children experience toxic stress, or stress in the absence of a safe, secure caregiving relationship, the parts of their brains responsible for emotional regulation do not develop normally. What results are symptoms that are then labeled "mental illness." 

I heard this phrase "office of homeland security of attachment" from Gerard Costa, director of the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health at Montclair State University. I was speaking at the 2nd annual Todd Ouida Children's Foundation Conference with the wonderful title: The Magic in Moments: Patterns of Early Relationships that Create Resilient Individuals and Peaceful Societies. While the phrase is meant to be humorous, the idea behind it is very serious.  

Our country is seriously lagging behind other countries in the care and attention we give to young children and their parents, with potentially devastating effects. A special government organization to take on this task would address this problem with the attention it deserves. This does not mean that the government has a role in parenting, which is a private, individual experience. Rather, such an organization could address such things as:

- parental leave policy
- comprehensive screening and treatment for perinatal emotional complications including 
depression and anxiety
- education of a workforce trained in working with young children and families
-  high quality child care, including supervision for child care workers 

Attending to early caregiving relationships will move us toward the goal of creating peaceful societies. Given that $247 billion is spent a year on children's mental health, focusing on early childhood is not only the right thing to do, it is also a worthwhile investment. 
  

Originally published on the blog Child in Mind.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Claudia M. Gold, M.D. is a pediatrician and author of Keeping Your Child in Mind: Overcoming Defiance, Tantrums, and Other Everyday Behavior Problems by Seeing the World Through Your Child's More »

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