All Children Deserve the Opportunity to Meet their Potential

Mary Ellen Weissman, Ph.D.

This blog post is part of a weekly series focusing on different aspects of public health leading up to Public Health Thank You Day on Monday, November 21, 2016. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #PHTYD and visit for more information.

As a clinical psychologist who treats children and their families, I have the privilege of helping children gain better understanding of themselves, as individuals and in the context of their family, school and community. The opportunity to intervene in multiple settings can enhance outcomes and is one of the most interesting and challenging aspects of my work. However, such coordination of care is beyond the grasp of most children and families. The CDC estimates that up to one in five children suffer from mental disorders that hinder their ability to meet age appropriate milestones in learning, behavior and relating to others. Unfortunately, the Department of Health and Human Services report that only seven percent of children in need of mental health services receive the timely, sufficient help they require. Barriers to treatment include: lack of trained providers in high need communities, private insurance or public funding issues and the lingering social stigma of mental illness.  

Research continually indicates that optimal treatment for childhood mental illness must take into account the complexity of children’s lives. Regardless of the condition, the best outcome for childhood mental illness is early diagnosis and targeted, evidence-based interventions implemented by trained professionals and supported by the child’s family, school and community. Integrating systems of care is a complicated and costly process; however the positive implications can be far reaching, as reducing the severity and/or long-term impact of symptoms can contribute to greater school success, improved relationships and economic savings. Therefore, a public health approach that addresses children’s symptoms in the context of their family, community, school and society is the best hope for this generation and generations to come.

All children deserve the opportunity to meet their potential, with the ultimate goal of becoming productive, ethical and kind adults.  Unfortunately, children with the greatest need or risk are least likely to have access to the highest quality mental health interventions. The negative consequences of poorly managed childhood mental health issues include:  lower educational attainment and wages, decreased likelihood of sustained employment and even greater crime. In contrast, mentally healthy children are more likely to grow up to be mentally healthy adults, as they are better educated, have higher earnings and contribute more to the economy.  Investment in childhood mental health has the potential to decrease future expenditures by facilitating a child’s ability to become a productive citizen. It also supports the vital and compelling promise of improving the circumstances of the next generation.

Dr. Weissman is a licensed psychologist specializing in psychological and educational testing and has worked with children and adults for over 25 years. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from University of Memphis and was previously the Director of Assessment and Psychology at the Kingsbury Center, in Washington D.C. She also works as a consultant for The Department of State, The Madeira School, Mercersburg Academy, and Miss Hall’s School.

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