Supporting child and adolescent mental health with the help of family and peers

Perspective: Connected care | Capability: Behavioral health | By: Carelon

To improve child and adolescent mental health, many healthcare leaders are engaging family and peers in youth mental health services more deeply than ever before. What’s creating the momentum?

Family and peers can significantly influence child and adolescent mental health during their formative years. Increasingly, progressive healthcare organizations are tapping that influence in new ways to better support young individuals’ mental health.

In particular, these organizations are proactively incorporating family and peer perspectives into mental health services. The primary reason: the benefits can be exponential not only for young individuals, their families, and their communities, but clinicians, as well.


Improving child and adolescent mental health outcomes


Many researchers and provider organizations are touting the positive impact that deeper family and peer involvement in youth mental health services has on health assessment and treatment planning. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics proposed  rooting treatment in a "life-course health development" approach that recognizes the significance of family and peer relationships in a young individual’s behavioral development.

Multidisciplinary, wraparound care models  that connect family members, peers, and providers are prime examples of this approach. Together, these groups work toward a shared goal and support children’s and adolescents’ whole health, especially their behavioral health. 

Integrating family and peer perspectives during assessment and treatment also informs clinicians about a young individual’s life experiences, relationships, and support networks, which are vital for treatment success. As valuable as these two groups are to young individuals’ outcomes, their roles in treatment and the benefits that they can yield can actually differ.


Gathering feedback from the family


Family plays a central role in a child's mental health treatment. Feedback from the family provides clinicians with important contextual information about behavior changes, symptoms, triggers, and past treatments. These additional perspectives help clinicians develop interventions and treatment strategies for sustained, positive outcomes.

Moreover, as the primary gatekeepers for children’s healthcare, parents and caregivers have arguably the greatest influence on outcomes. For example, treatment acceptance often depends on parents’ and caregivers’ attitudes toward mental health and the need for care. As a result, many healthcare organizations are prioritizing ongoing engagement with the family throughout the treatment continuum.

By engaging family, especially parents and caregivers, in youth mental health services, healthcare organizations are able to:

  • Remove treatment barriers stemming from stigma and bias.
  • Drive and enhance sustainable treatment plans.
  • Develop culturally competent treatment that respects a family's values and beliefs.
  • Better educate the family about the child's condition and treatment plan.
  • Share positive reinforcement strategies and coping skills to lower stress and effectively handle crisis situations.
  • Integrate mental health with social support necessary for treatment success.
  • Reduce crisis care and excessive emergency department utilization.

Involving parents and caregivers also results in stronger family and parent-child relationships, addresses the emotional and behavioral needs of parents, and strengthens family routines.


Integrating peer perspectives


Child and adolescent mental health challenges happen outside of the home environment , too. They involve school  and other social settings. Consequently, peers play a critical role in a young individual’s mental health trajectory and social-emotional responses.

A peer's perspective and support can help children and adolescents navigate social interactions, learn productive communication skills, and reduce disruptive behavior patterns, according to Frontiers in Psychology .

When healthcare organizations engage peers during mental health treatment, benefits can be significant. Healthcare organizations are able to:

  • Reinforce a youth's confidence and resilience.
  • Build social connectedness.
  • Reduce mental health stigma and bias.
  • Improve child and adolescent self-empowerment.
  • Boost social skills and reduce social isolation.
  • Promote lasting well-being.

Furthermore, peers with experience managing their mental health can provide youth in similar circumstances the guidance and motivation to engage with treatment providers.


The power of family and peer engagement in treatment


The home and social environment offers a window to some of the key drivers of a child’s or adolescent’s mental health, including cultural and familial values. Increasingly, innovators at healthcare organizations see the impact that those environments have on long-term treatment adherence and, ultimately, outcomes. As a result, these leaders are shifting their behavioral health strategy for children and adolescents, often with a single end goal in mind: to empower young individuals and their support networks so they can navigate mental health challenges and remain connected with each other.


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