College of Arts and Science
New York University
Mental health practitioners who work with children and adolescents, including social workers, psychologists, educational specialists, and psychiatrists, are in short supply. For example, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Health Professions has named Child and Adolescent Psychiatry as the most underserved of all medical subspecialties. The current workforce consists of approximately 6300 Child and Adolescents psychiatrists, whereas the need is estimated at over 30,000 (AACAP, 2001). Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists are not alone, however, as the national need for child and adolescent social workers, educational specialists, and psychologists is equally great. In addition to the lack of skilled clinicians, there are few professionals in journalism, sociology, public health, law, medicine, and social welfare who understand the biological, psychological, and social basis of child and adolescent mental health and illness. We believe that an integrated area of study for college students that addresses this notable lack of knowledge and skills among future leaders will have far reaching impact. To that end, we have developed this undergraduate minor in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies (CAMS).
Emerging evidence continues to point to an increase in the prevalence of mental health problems among adolescents and young adults (Surgeon General's Report, 1999). Whether this increase is due to better diagnosis, an actual increase in prevalence, or both is unknown, but half of all lifetime cases of mental illness are now recognized to begin by age 14 and three-quarters by age 24 (Kessler et al, 2005). Despite effective treatments, however, there are typically long delays, sometimes decades, between when individuals first experience clinically significant symptoms and when they first seek and receive treatment.
Severe, disabling depression affects approximately 17% of adolescents and young adults nationally (Kashani & Sherman, 1988; Fleming & Offord, 1990; Lewinsohn et al, 1993 & 1994; Kessler & Walters, 1998), while anxiety in its many forms results in significant impairment in approximately 13% of children and adolescents (Shaffer et al, 1996). Other mental illnesses, such as Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (which has a prevalence of 3 – 7%) and Bipolar Mood Disorder (which has a prevalence of over 1%), affect smaller numbers but are ubiquitous amongst children, adolescents, and young adults, causing an untold amount of suffering and lost productivity (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Despite the fact that federal government spending on anti-drug measures has increased over ten-fold in the last 15 years, over 50% of high school seniors have experimented with an illicit drug, 23% have used an illicit drug within the past 30 days, and over 30% have been drunk within the past 30 days (Monitoring the Future, 2005). Suicide, the most feared and tragic outcome of mental illness, is the third most common cause of death among adolescents and young adults, preceded only by accidents and homicide (Anderson and Smith, 2003).
Through basic science research and clinical investigation, our understanding of the neuro-biological basis of mental illness has grown immensely over the past three decades. A primary gene for Tourette's Syndrome (a severely disabling illness in which the affected individual is unable to control both motor and vocal tics), for example, was recently discovered (Abelson et al, 2005). As our understanding grows, so will our ability to target treatments for these illnesses. Concurrent with the research advances, the growth in evidence-based treatments, including medications and psychotherapies, has already advanced our ability to treat specific symptoms, such as psychosis, mania, tics, obsessive anxiety, hyperactivity, and depression, allowing individuals to lead healthy and normal lives.
Still, misinformation about mental illness abounds and suspicion around the means of mental health workers remains. Images of the cold and unfeeling psychotherapist and the "Dr. Frankenstein" psychiatrist, eager to experiment on his "guinea pig" patients, are not difficult for even most college educated individuals to conjure. Consequently, given the great advances in our biological, psychological, and social understanding of mental illness; the enormous burden of child and adolescent psychopathology on our society; and the general lack of public understanding; a college minor which can address these issues is long overdue.
We hope that by heightening undergraduates' awareness of childhood mental health issues and their sustained impact on adolescents and adults we will accomplish four primary goals:
- Students will explore the relationship between human behavior and its biological and environmental bases;
- Students will increase their intellectual curiosity and build analytic and problem-solving skills;
- Students will be challenged to think critically about the concepts of "normal" or "typical" versus "abnormal" behavior and engage in a meta-level analysis of the social, historical, and cultural context of mental health, illness, and diagnosis; and
- We will encourage those students with a natural interest and inclination toward careers in social work, education and special education, psychology, law, medicine, sociology, nursing, public health, scientific journalism, and psychiatry, to consider focusing their future career in some significant capacity on children and adolescents.
If you have any questions or would like to know more about the CAMS Minor, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.