Best Practices

Mental Health

  • Every child's mental health is important.
  • Many children have mental health problems.
  • These problems are real, painful, and can be severe.
  • Mental health problems can be recognized and treated.
  • Caring families and communities working together can help.


It is easy for parents to identify their child's physical needs: lots of good food, warm clothes when it's cold, bedtime at a reasonable hour. However, a child's mental and emotional needs may not be as obvious. Good mental health allows children and adolescents to think clearly, to develop socially and to learn new skills.


Mental health is how people think, feel, and act as they face life's situations. It affects how people handle stress, relate to one another, and make decisions. Mental health influences the ways individuals look at themselves, their lives, and others in their lives. Like physical health, mental health is important at every stage of life.


Like adults, children and adolescents can have mental health disorders that interfere with the way they think, feel, and act. When untreated, mental health disorders can lead to school failure, family conflicts, drug abuse, violence, and even suicide. Untreated mental health disorders can be very costly to families, communities, and the health care system.


Mental health problems affect one in every five young people at any given time, and an estimated two-thirds of all young people with mental health problems are not getting the help they need. (Department of Health & Human Services). Recent evidence compiled by the World Health Organization indicates that by the year 2020, childhood neuropsychiatric disorders will rise proportionately by over 50 percent, internationally, to become one of the five most common causes of morbidity, mortality, and disability among children. Mental disorders and mental health problems appear in families of all social classes and of all backgrounds. No one is immune. Mental health disorders in children and adolescents are caused mostly by biology and environment. Examples of biological causes are genetics, chemical imbalances in the body, or damage to the central nervous system, such as a head injury. Many environmental factors also put young people at risk for developing mental health disorders, including physical problems; intellectual disabilities; low birth weight; family history of mental and addictive disorders; multigenerational poverty; and caregiver separation or abuse and neglect.


The landmark 1999 Report of the Surgeon General on Mental Health highlighted the extensive research base demonstrating a range of effective interventions for most mental disorders. Many well-researched interventions have proven highly effective for treatment of mental disorders in adults, children and adolescents. With ongoing efforts to refine and study the effectiveness of new techniques, the field distinguishes between "evidence-based practices," "emerging best practices", and "promising practices". "Evidence-based practices", as defined by the Institute of Medicine (IOM,) is the integration of best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values. The President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health defines "emerging best practices" as treatments and services that are promising but less thoroughly documented. Still other models or interventions have not yet been replicated but are identified as "promising practices" because they show benefit based on outcome data.


Background Documents


Evidence-Based Programs

The following links provide comprehensive, up-to-date information regarding evidence-based and best practices for mental health interventions for children, youth and families.


Substance Abuse/Mental Health Services Administration:

The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at CU Boulder:


Recommended Strategies

Related Topics