Sound mental health is expressed through a person’s capacity to cope with normal stresses, work productively, and contribute to society. Mental health is a salient indicator of well-being that can be promoted and nurtured from infancy.
The field of mental health has begun to evolve from an emphasis on treating mental illness to a public health approach that includes promoting mental health and preventing disorders. Globally and in communities nationally, HHD’s work focuses on making improvements in social-emotional learning and environmental factors; adopting interventions that recognize symptoms early and prevent problems from becoming more serious; and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, which can be a barrier to seeking care.
Unfortunately, mental disorders pervade the lives of many adults and children. Twenty percent of children experience a mental health disorder; and one person in four will have at least one behavioral or mental disorder during his or her lifetime. A large portion of people with mental stress also use alcohol or other drugs, exacerbating their condition. The World Health Organization predicts that mental health disorders will constitute five of the top ten leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the next decade.
Physical well-being, school success, workplace productivity, and family and community stability are associated with positive mental health. Untreated serious mental disorders in the U.S. burden society with estimates exceeding $193 billion in productivity losses alone. Health care and social welfare expenses, together with increased use of the criminal justice system, further multiply the economic costs.
Promoting mental health and preventing disorders is a priority at HHD. Prevention and early intervention have the potential to decrease the incidence of mental health problems. Among children they can short-circuit the consequences these problems could produce across a lifetime—school failure, delinquency, substance abuse, job failure, incarceration, and financial poverty in adulthood.