Our common goal

Youth and family mental health at the community level

The 2015 "Behavioral Health Town Halls" report identified two consistent needs:

  • Systemic changes (improved access, services, coordination, administration simplicity)
  • Holistic supports (housing, employment, transportation)

To better meet these needs, Oregon's Coordinated Care Organizations are integrating behavioral health with primary and dental care. The Community Health Improvement Plans for many counties include specific objectives related to mental and behavioral health. County public health departments dedicate resources to addressing mental and behavioral health needs.

We want to add to these efforts by contributing our academic expertise and leveraging resources of the College of Public Health and its Public Health Extension programs.

 

Youth and their families

When children grow up in a safe and nurturing home and have opportunities to learn — and time to interact and build relationships with other children — they are more likely to reach their full potential.

Unfortunately, more than one in five youth experience three or more significant adverse experiences during their childhood, putting them at major risk for poor mental, behavioral and physical health and reduced life potential.

The need for a safe and nurturing home and community is especially true for youth with mental, behavioral and developmental disorders. Disorders such as anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning problems often begin in early childhood and can affect lifelong health and well-being.

According to the CDC, about one in seven U.S. children ages 2-8 have a mental, behavioral and/or developmental disorder reported by a parent.

Oregon families with young and school-aged children face numerous difficulties in providing safe and secure home life. About 15 percent of Oregon children under age 18 fell below the poverty line in 2017, and 44 percent of single mothers and 17 percent of couples with children experienced food insecurity in 2013-15. Families of youth with mental, behavioral and developmental disorders confront personal, financial and neighborhood challenges more often than families of children without these difficulties. These challenges make it harder for some parents to give their child the resources they need to thrive.

 

Working with communities

The type of community that families live in may increase these challenges. Food insecurity, housing insecurity and poverty affect how families care for their youth, and these challenges occur as much or more often in rural communities. Parents of youth with mental, behavioral and developmental disorders in rural areas more often report having trouble getting by on their family's income than parents of children with these disorders in urban areas and report poorer mental health for themselves. Communities in high poverty areas lack amenities that promote quality of life, such as parks, recreation centers and libraries.

Community-based initiatives can help families overcome these challenges. Families of youth with mental, behavioral and developmental challenges can benefit from better access to mental and behavioral health care, programs that support parents and caregivers, and opportunities to learn, play and socialize.