Child and Adolescent Mental Health: An Urgent Need for New Paradigms and Partnerships in Research and Clinical Training and Community

Research Training and Clinics for a new mental health in Children and Adolescents

Modena, 21st January 2014 

Empirical research shows that most mental disorders begin in childhood/adolescence, with 75% of such disorders beginning before age 25, and 50% beginning between 12 and 25 years of age.

While epidemiological data are clear in their message, treatments for mental disorders are often made available late, and their quality is variable. Only about one fourth of youth with any mental disorders get professional help, and only half of adolescents with severe mental illness are treated; an even smaller number of youngsters with mental disorders receive treatments of proven efficacy. Moreover, there is paucity of information on mental illness available to youth: how to recognise symptoms and how to get access to treatment is still poorly communicated. While significant progresses have been made recently, mental health services remain scarcely accessible even to those youth who are most in need, with stigma significantly hampering progression towards qualified, timely and durable help.

Failure to appropriately treat the acutely ill adolescent and lack of specialised units bring about chronicity and disability. Unsurprisingly, mental illness in youth is associated with academic failure, poor working skills and increasingly difficult familial environments. All these long-term adversities generate large societal costs. For instance, recent estimates show that unrecognised mental issues in youth yield costs 30 Billion dollars worth to the Australian Administration, a figure close to the one estimated by the Canadian Administration for their own younger population.

The challenge we are facing is thus clear, albeit health systems show weaknesses in the place of strengths: youth mental health is crucial for our communities and a matter of paramount priority for our Countries. A change is in order, and this must take place rapidly: this encompasses building specific services and facilities focussed on early-onset mental disorders (including the psychoses, mood, eating and substance disorders), via prevention and early intervention.

Furthermore, children and adolescents need be treated though therapeutic approaches of proven efficacy: treatments that are validated by empirical investigation are not always readily adopted within clinical practice, which further delays response to treatment. Such a divide between academic research and clinical practice needs be filled soon, together with the involvement of communities and families in supporting bio-psychosocial models of illness and health, and increased support and adoption of good clinical practices. Only through factual, mutual support among these parties: academia, families and communities, early identification and timely treatment of mental illnesses will become real.  

A wide participation of stakeholders towards a new model of welfare – with the Canadian TRAM (Transformational Research in Adolescents Mental Health) project establishing a very interesting blueprint – is vital to such a process: the implementation of research-validated norms of best practice into real contexts is the first step towards a new culture of health and treatment, which will then spread to the larger societal contexts. Second, community-wide initiatives to promote mental health and early recognition of mental disorders will sustain and expand this process of knowledge and information. Consistent with this view, some less severe disorders may respond to 1st level interventions (psychosocial support, self-help strategies, psycho-education), while more severe conditions need more specialised and interdisciplinary cares.

Nowadays, any national Health Care System must reach the young in a more widespread, accessible, user-friendly manner: a very nice example is now provided by the Australian National Youth Mental Health Foundation, ( “Headscape: Where young minds come first”), whereby young people at the onset of mental illness receive a multidisciplinary, community-linked assistance.

Our Congress is organised by the Chair of Child Psychiatry of the Modena and Reggio Emilia University and is focussed on the aforementioned issues in child and adolescent mental health, with a panel of national and international experts offering their views and suggestions. Our scope is that of identifying new approaches and models of intervention to effectively cope with the growing need for better child and youth mental health. We strongly believe that this must be done. We also believe that it can be done only on the basis of new and robust scientific knowledge, treatments of proven clinical efficacy, and active and direct societal  participation to the promotion of children and youth’s mental health.



Marco Battaglia,  Professor in Psychiatry, Laval University, Québec City, Canada

Sergio Bernasconi, Professor in Pediatrics, University of Parma 

Ian Boeckh, Executive Chair  “Graham Boeckh Foundation”, Montréal, Canada

Ernesto Caffo, Professor in Child and Adolescents Neuropsychiatry, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia 

Fabio Catani, Director Division in Orthopedics and Traumathology, University General Hospital – Policlinico di Modena

Giuseppe Cossu, Professor in Child and Adolescents Neuropsychiatry, University of Parma

Nicolino D’Autilia, President of the Order of Medical Doctor, Modena

Diana de Ronchi,  Professor in Psichiatry, University of Bologna  

Giovanni Fava, Professor in Psychology, University of Bologna  

Simona Gaudi, Researcher  “Istituto Superiore di Sanità”, Rome

Bennet Leventhal, President of the WPA Working Group in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Irving B. Harris Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Emeritus University of Chicago, USA

Michel Maziade, Professor in Psychiatry, Laval Univeristy, Québec City and  Chairholder, Canada Research Chair in the genetics of neuropsychiatric disorders

Cristina Mussini, Associate Professor in Infectuous Disease, University of Modena e Reggio Emilia, Direttor of the  Clinic of Infectuous Disease,  University General Hospital – Policlinico di Modena

Paolo Paolucci, Professor of Pediatrics, University of Modena e Reggio Emilia

Marco Rigatelli, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Modena e Reggio Emilia 

Norman Sartorius, President of the Association for Improvement in Mental Health, Geneve, Switzerland

Paolo Stagi, Director of division in Child and Adolescents Neuropsychiatry, Azienda USL di Modena

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