No concerted federal presence or clear national leadership currently exists to advance the use of prevention and promotion approaches to benefit the mental health of the nation’s young people. Infusing a prevention focus into the public consciousness requires development of a shared public vision and attention at a higher national level than currently exists.
Recommendation: The federal government should make the healthy mental, emotional, and behavioral development of young people a national priority, establish public goals for the prevention of specific MEB disorders and for the promotion of healthy development among young people, and provide needed research and service resources to achieve these aims. (13-1)
Mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among young people burden not only traditional mental health and substance abuse programs, but also multiple other service systems that support young people and their families—most notably the education, child welfare, primary medical care, and juvenile justice systems. According to one estimate, more than a quarter of total service costs for children who have these disorders are incurred in the school and juvenile justice systems. Similarly, a quarter of pediatric primary care visits address behavioral issues. The cost savings of prevention programs likewise are experienced in a range of service systems. A national-level response therefore requires the creation of a designated entity with the authority to establish common prevention goals, to direct relevant federal resources, and to influence the investment of state, local, or private resources toward these goals as well as coordination and leadership across and within multiple federal agencies.
Recommendation: The White House should create an ongoing mechanism involving federal agencies, stakeholders (including professional associations), and key researchers to develop and implement a strategic approach to the promotion of mental, emotional, and behavioral health and the prevention of MEB disorders and related problem behaviors in young people. The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Justice should be accountable for coordinating and aligning their resources, programs, and initiatives with this strategic approach and for encouraging their state and local counterparts to do the same. (13-2)
Federal resources should support the continued evaluation and refinement of programs to increase understanding of what works for whom and