Childhood behavioral and mental health problems, if left untreated, have profound implications for the individual as well as society.
According to a recent World Health Organization study of the global burden of illness, mental illness ranks second in the number of years of lost life and productivity, with an estimated 15.4 years lost to premature death or disability. Similarly, the cost to society for inadequately addressing behavioral problems in children is sobering. In 1999, the cost of maintaining the criminal justice system was estimated to be $147 billion, and these expenditures continue to rise. While these numbers are staggering, there is a hope.
The neurosciences have advanced our understanding of the etiology and pathology associated with behavioral and mental health problems in children and adolescents. Over the past two decades, molecular biology, genetics and imaging have given us a window into understanding the neurobiology of depression, anxiety disorders, and disruptive behaviors. Our goal now is to understand how these disorders unfold over time, what risk factors may be early indicators for pathology and what interventions are most useful in correcting the developmental course.