Supporting Behavioral Health
Learn what CDC is doing to improve access to behavioral health services and supports for children and their families.
Mental health concerns and conditions in early childhood can have a serious impact on children’s health and development, during childhood and long term. Children’s mental health is an important topic for public health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with federal partners like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) work to understand children’s mental health, identify ways to prevent children’s mental health concerns and conditions, and improve access for children and families to behavioral health services.
Understanding the Problem
1 in 7 children aged 2-8 years has a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder.
A research study looked at family, community and healthcare factors related to mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders among children aged 2 to 8 years. The study found that 1 out of 7 U.S. children aged 2 to 8 years were reported to have a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. Many family, community and healthcare factors were related to the children having these disorders, such as
- Lacking a medical home,
- Neighborhood concerns,
- Parents with fair or poor mental health, and
- Childcare problems that affected parents’ job.
These findings highlight specific factors that national, state, and local policies and programs could address through collaborative efforts. Read more details about the findings here.
In March 2016, CDC held a Public Health Grand Rounds (PHGR) to discuss the growing problem of health disparities (differences in health and health outcomes) that are rooted in early childhood experiences, and the importance of promoting children’s mental health. The speakers described how knowledge about the lasting value of early childhood experiences continues to grow. Interventions that support healthy development in early childhood, such as supporting parents and teachers in disadvantaged communities, can reduce disparities, have lifelong positive impacts, and are worthwhile investments. Importantly, the speakers gave examples for how addressing these disparities offers opportunities, not only to help children, but to benefit society as a whole. This could occur through improved population health and the resulting cost savings.
Following the PHGR presentation, a panel of community stakeholders discussed how increased collaborations, public health partnerships, and early intervention can be used to address health disparities in early childhood and improve behavioral health services for prevention of and intervention for children’s mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders. Learn more about the PHGR on Addressing Health Disparities in Early Childhood here.
Behavioral Health Services for Young Children with ADHD
CDC is working to support behavioral health services for young children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Experts recommend that children under 6 with ADHD receive behavior therapy first, before trying medication. Behavior therapy for young children is most effective when it is delivered by parents. During parent training in behavior therapy, parents work with a therapist to learn strategies to create structure in daily life for their child, reinforce good behavior, provide consistent discipline, and strengthen the relationship with their child through positive communication. But data show that at least half of young children with ADHD do not receive any kind of psychological service.
CDC works to help families get the right care at the right time by raising awareness of the recommended treatments, increasing treatment options for families and providers, and exploring best practices to support behavior therapy. Because the therapies that are effective for young children with ADHD also are effective for children with other behavior disorders, improving access to such behavioral health services would benefit many children beyond those diagnosed with ADHD. Learn more about ADHD and CDC’s work on this topic.
Behavioral Health Services for Children with Tourette Syndrome
Another example of improving children’s access to needed behavioral health services is the Tourette Syndrome National Education and Outreach Program. Tourette syndrome is a condition that causes people affected by the condition to have tics that cannot easily be controlled. These tics, such as sudden noises or movements, can seriously interfere with a child’s ability to learn, play, and get along with peers. A behavioral treatment called Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics (CBIT) has been developed to help children learn ways to reduce the tic symptoms. The Tourette Association’s Education and Outreach program, in partnership with CDC, increases children’s access to CBIT by training health professionals in conducting CBIT, and educating families and communities about this behavioral health service. Learn more about tics, Tourette syndrome, CBIT, and the Tourette Syndrome National Education and Outreach Program here.
Mental Health across the Lifespan and across the Globe
CDC also works on mental health throughout the life span, in the United States and around the globe. These activities include
- Health related quality of life,
- Mental illness and chronic diseases,
- Violence prevention,
- The impact of natural and man-made disasters on mental health,
- Women’s mental health before, during, and after pregnancy,
- Mental health promotion, and prevention of mental illness in the community.
Read more about CDC’s work on mental health here.
- CDC Children’s Mental Health
- CDC Mental Health
- CDC Youth Suicide Prevention
- CDC Alcohol and Public Health
- CDC Health Related Quality of Life
- CDC Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- CDC Tourette Syndrome
- CDC Learn the Signs Act Early
- ACF Head Start Programs: Mental Health Resources
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- National Resource Center on ADHD
- Tourette Association of America
Behavioral health describes the connection between a person’s behaviors and the health and well-being of the body and mind.
- Page last reviewed: December 1, 2016
- Page last updated: January 11, 2017
- Content source:
- National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Division of Human Development and Disability
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs