Mental Health Issues

Conceptualizing a domain of "mental health and children" represents an advance in cultural and societal thinking. The various impediments to this view are well known among students of the history of childhood—at least in Western cultures. These include the concept of children as property, and the broader ignorance and denial of children's affective and cognitive development.

More modern concepts of children and childhood provide a foundation for focusing on the mental health of children as a vital concern. One testament to this development is the passage in 1989 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention provides a view of children and childhood in which mental-health concerns are central, one that goes beyond the ideas contained in the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

The convention makes it clear that mental-health issues (e.g., policies that facilitate prevention, and access to services, among others) are primary implications of children's rights. Children, the convention asserts, are entitled to basic psychological resources. These include mandates to ensure family and social identity, empathic and stable care, protection from exploitation, and rehabilitative treatment when experiencing mental-health problems or being exposed to trauma, such as war and abuse.

This rights-focused orientation to the mental health of children reflects a growing appreciation for the scope, depth, range, and subtlety of children's experience. Indeed, in the field of children's mental health there has been a growing recognition and empirical exploration of the existence and characteristics of child variants and precedents of most major adult mental-health problems. Important examples are those of schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

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