Mentally healthy children achieve developmental and emotional milestones, progress through healthy social development, and develop and use effective coping skills. They function well in a variety of settings, and maintain positive relationships. On the other hand, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define mental disorders as “serious deviations from expected cognitive, social and emotional development.” Mental disorders typically start early in a child’s life. In any given year, as many as 20 percent of kids struggle with a mental disorder, with effects rippling to family, school and community.
Children with one mental disorder often have another, and also experience higher rates of chronic issues with physical health, such as diabetes, epilepsy and asthma. Without appropriate support, children with mental illness are more likely to use illicit substances, behave criminally and take undue risks. They are more likely to be pushed from our classrooms and campuses into the juvenile justice and prison systems. Unfortunately, their health needs are also linked to the second leading cause of death among young people: suicide.
Learn more about common mental disorders and related issues:
- Aggression and defiance;
- Anxiety and depression;
- Attention deficit and hyperactivity: ADD and ADHD;
- Autism; and
- Substance use and abuse.
The U.S. departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Justice came together to develop the Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) Initiative in 1999 to “develop and coordinate integrated systems that create safe, drug-free, and respectful environments for learning and to promote the behavioral health of children and youth.” A 2012 evaluation showed that across diverse settings and partnerships, SS/HS:
- Reduced frequency of violent incidents in schools;
- Reduced rates of alcohol, drug and tobacco use among students;
- Led to greater access to mental health services among youth;
- Reduced truancy among students; and
- Improved school climate to be more favorable to learning and positive child development.
The SS/HS Initiative coordinates core elements that the AFT has long championed, including:
- Promoting early childhood social and emotional learning and development;
- Promoting mental, emotional and behavioral health, such as through restorative discipline;
- Connecting youth, families, schools and communities;
- Preventing and reducing alcohol, tobacco and other drug use; and
- Preventing bullying and youth violence.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. May 17, 2013. Mental Health Surveillance Among Children—United States, 2005-2011. [Report.] Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.