National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from
(800) 950-NAMI;

Opportunity To Improve Treatment And Services For Children With Severe Mental Illnesses Talking Points, Principles And Goals

For Immediate Release, January 11, 2001
Contact: Chris Marshall

Last September, the Surgeon General, David Satcher, M.D., held an historic conference on children's mental health, attended by NAMI and other concerned professional and advocacy groups. On January 3, the Surgeon General released a report on the conference as was reported in the NAMI E-News (NAMI E-News, January 3, 2001, Vol. 01-61, The report comes on the heels of the Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health released a year earlier and soundly identifies the public health crisis caused by our nation's failure to recognize and treat childhood mental illnesses.

The report has generated long overdue attention to the remarkable absence of appropriate screening, treatment and services for children and adolescents with mental illnesses. Local and national media continue to feature reports and articles confirming the crisis our children face as a result of the failure of a fragmented mental health system.

It is important that NAMI members and advocates take this opportunity to educate policymakers and the media about the Surgeon General's report and recommended action agenda. NAMI has condensed information from the report that will facilitate this process. Members are encouraged to use this material to advocate for evidence-based screening, treatment and services with their state legislatures and media editorial boards. The full report can be accessed at

For more information on NAMI's policies concerning children and adolescents, please go to

The following talking points, principles, and goals have been excepted from the Report.

Report of the Surgeon General's Conference on Children's Mental Health:

A National Action Agenda
(Edited Excerpts from the report)

  • The burden of suffering experienced by children with mental health needs and their families has created a health crisis in this country. It is time that we as a Nation took seriously the task of preventing mental health problems and treating mental illnesses in youth.
  • In the United States, 1 in 10 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause impairment. Yet, in any given year, fewer than 1 in 5 of these children receives needed treatment.
  • According to recent evidence compiled by the World Health Organization, by the year 2020, childhood neuropsychiatric disorders will rise proportionately by over 50 percent, internationally, to become one of the five most common causes of childhood morbidity, mortality, and disability.
  • Concerns about inappropriate diagnosis -- either over or under-diagnosis of children's mental health problems -- and about the availability of evidence-based, scientifically-proven treatments and services for children and their families have sparked a national dialogue around these issues.
  • There is sweeping evidence that the nation lacks a unified infrastructure to help these children and many are falling through the cracks. Too often, children who are not identified as having mental health problems and who do not receive services end up in the juvenile justice system.
  • Fifteen percent of all youth mandated or incarcerated in "boot camps" have a serious mental illness such as bipolar or schizophrenia.
  • Another recently published report indicates that fifty to seventy-five percent of the children in juvenile justice institutions are youngsters of color who have never had access to mental health screening or treatment.
  • Children and families are suffering because of missed opportunities for prevention and early identification, fragmented treatment services, and low priorities for the necessary resources.
  • Mental health is a critical component of children's learning and general health. Fostering social and emotional health in children as a part of healthy child development must be a national priority.
  • To address identified critical issues, the Office of the Surgeon General held a conference on Children's Mental Health: Developing a National Action Agenda on September 18 - 19, 2000 in Washington, DC.


The Surgeon General's National Action Agenda for Children's Mental Health takes as its guiding principles a commitment to:

  • Promoting the recognition of mental health as an essential part of child health;
  • Integrating family, child and youth-centered mental health services into all systems that serve children and youth;
  • Engaging families and incorporating the perspectives of children and youth in the development of all mental healthcare planning; and
  • Developing and enhancing a public-private health infrastructure to support these efforts to the fullest extent possible.

The Surgeon General's National Action Agenda for Children's Mental Health identifies eight goals and multiple action steps. They are:

  • Promote public awareness of children's mental health issues and reduce stigma associated with mental illness.
  • Continue to develop, disseminate, and implement scientifically-proven prevention and treatment services in the field of children's mental health.
  • Improve the assessment and recognition of mental health needs in children.
  • Eliminate racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in access to mental healthcare.
  • Improve the infrastructure for children's mental health services including support for scientifically-proven interventions across professions.
  • Increase access to and coordination of quality mental healthcare services.
  • Train frontline providers to recognize and manage mental health issues, and educate mental health providers in scientifically-proven prevention and treatment services.
  • Monitor the access to and coordination of quality mental healthcare services.