ScienceDaily (Feb. 22, 2011) — Infants and toddlers can suffer serious mental health disorders, yet they are unlikely to receive treatment that could prevent lasting developmental problems, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
One barrier to mental health care for young children is "the pervasive, but mistaken, impression that young children do not develop mental health problems and are immune to the effects of early adversity and trauma because they are inherently resilient and 'grow out of' behavioral problems and emotional difficulties," according to researchers Joy D. Osofsky, PhD, of Louisiana State University, and Alicia F. Lieberman, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco.
Contrary to traditional beliefs that infants cannot have mental health problems "because they lack mental life," even young infants can react to the meaning of others' intentions and emotions because they have their own rudimentary intentions and motivating emotions, according to an article by Tronick and Marjorie Beeghly, PhD, of Wayne State University. While trauma can be a significant factor in developing mental health issues, the authors encourage more study of the impact of everyday life and continual interactions between infants and parents or other caregivers.
"Infants make meaning about themselves and their relation to the world of people and things," Tronick and Beeghly stated, and when that "meaning-making" goes wrong, it can lead to development of mental health problems. "Some infants may come to make meaning of themselves as helpless and hopeless, and they may become apathetic, depressed and withdrawn. Others seem to feel threatened by the world and may become hyper-vigilant and anxious." Apparent sadness, anger, withdrawal and disengagement can occur "when infants have difficulty gaining meaning in the context of relationships," they write.