Child Mental Health

child mental health

Child mental health is an essential consideration in promoting healthy child development. But when FrameWorks researchers investigated public thinking on this topic, they found that the public tended to assume that it didn’t exist, that it was a matter of controlling one’s emotions through willpower, or that its biological components meant that there’s nothing that can be done to improve children’s mental health.

The good news is that public understanding can be shaped through communications. The studies below show that effective framing – that which avoids reinforcing misconceptions and advances a more accurate understanding – can make a measurable difference in people’s knowledge, attitudes, and policy preferences.

The topic of child mental health is an important “chapter” in the Core Story of Early Childhood Development, an overarching narrative structure for building public understanding of the science of early brain and biological development. FrameWorks has developed this Core Story in partnership with the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, with support from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child and the Palix Foundation.

Our Funders

Support for FrameWorks' research and message development on child and family mental health was largely provided by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, supplemented by initial funding from the Endowment for Health (NH).

Research & Recommendations

How to Talk About Children's Mental Health: A FrameWorks MessageMemo (2010).  This MessageMemo summarizes the findings from our research, and provides advocates and experts with a communications map for improving the public's understanding of children's mental health and the value of solutions that scientists and policy leaders seek to advance.

Refining the Options for Advancing Support for Child Mental Health Policies (2010).  This report tests the impact of frame elements, specifically two values, interdependence and prevention, on support for progressive children's mental health policies.  We find that these values do not work as well as previous values tested and so stand by our earlier recommendation that prosperity and ingenuity do best at activating this support.   

The Power of Levelness: Making Child Mental Health Visible and Concrete Through an Explanatory Metaphor (2010).  This report presents "Levelness" as an explanatory metaphor that was effective in helping people understand the science of child mental health.  It also reports, in summary and detail, the research process of developing and testing the model.

Destiny or Destructive Environments: How Peer Discourse Sessions Toggle Between Child Mental Health and Illness (2010).  This report shares the results of 8 peer discourse sessions conducted in 3 U.S. cities with diverse groups of civically engaged people about child mental health. This research demonstrates the utility of explanatory metaphors in translating the science of mental health to lay audiences and the necessity of both explanatory metaphors and values for garnering support for social policies that can both prevent mental health problems and promote good mental health in children.

Children’s Mental Health: A Review of the Scientific Discourse (2009).  This report offers an extensive literature review as well as expert interviews to begin to document the story that experts wish to tell about child and family mental health.

Conflicting Models of Mind in Mind: Mapping the Gaps Between the Expert and the Public Understanding of Child Mental Health as Part of Strategic Frame Analysis (2009).  This report examines the differences between the ways that members of the scientific community and the general public think about concepts of mental health and mental illness in relation to young children. Dominant cultural models for children's mental health are identified and suggestions for further research are provided.

Competing Frames of Mental Health and Mental Illness: Media Frames and the Public Understandings of Child Mental Health (2009) examines 80 news articles focused on child mental health drawn from large and regional newspapers May 2008 – May 2009. News coverage is analyzed from both a descriptive perspective and a cognitive perspective, suggesting how media frames interact with the cultural models of child mental health documented in other research.

Advancing Support for Child Mental Health Policies: Early Results from Experimental Research (2009) reports on the effects of various frame elements (values, child development principles and explanatory metaphors) on child mental health policy preferences.

Products and Tools

Talking About Children’s Mental Health is a compendium of essential tools to help experts and advocates apply the research findings to their communications. The toolkit includes templates for products used in everyday communications practice, such as talking points, sample op-eds, how to use data effectively, and other essential resources.

Models of the Mind is a multi-media presentation of the findings from 20 in-depth cognitive interviews, conducted in Dallas, Texas and Cleveland, Ohio in May 2009. Featuring the real voices of research informants, this presentation demonstrates some of the ways in which lay understanding of the issue of children's mental health differs significantly from what experts know.  It also suggests how expert knowledge might be more effectively conveyed to the public and policymakers.

Models of the Mind - The Gap Between Expert and Lay Understanding of Child Mental Health


FrameWorks Institute

  Updated: 06/24/16