Mental Health Services for Children and Adolescents



Children and adolescents in our society have mental health problems, as do adults, although our society is more attuned to the mental health problems of adults. Almost all of the mental health services available in America were developed for adult populations with serious and persistent mental illness like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, serious depression, severe anxiety disorders, acute stress reactions, and long-term lifestyle adjustment problems. Mental health services for children have been more or less copied from the services available for adults.

Services for adults include psychotherapy in an outpatient mental health clinic, psychotropic medications from a psychiatrist, and community support services for adults who are severely disabled by mental illness. Community support includes assistance with the requirements of daily living such as socialization, housing, finances, transportation, vocational, and medical services. Crisis intervention services are also available for adults who have thoughts of suicide, thoughts of harming others, or who are unable to cope with their situation. Some people in crisis need to be hospitalized in psychiatric hospitals, where they can be protected. Psychiatric hospital placements are usually short-term because these services are very expensive. Most hospitalizations of adults do not last longer than a few days.

Treatment for children and adolescents cannot strictly follow adult models for treatment, although there is some degree of overlap. Problems that are typical for one age group are often not typical of another age group. Children and adolescents lack many of the skills of adults, such as reasoning and verbal capacity. Children have a dependent status, both legally and physically. Their circumstances are forced on them, to a greater degree than with adults. Adults, even those with severe mental illness, are usually in charge of their own decision making. Children do not have the option of living on their own, supporting themselves financially, or moving whenever they feel like it. Mental health services for children have to be adjusted to fit their dependent status and their developmental context.

The mental health problems of children are entangled in the problems of the family and social systems that structure their lives. Their mental health problems are also imbedded in their developmental status.