In recent years there has been an increased recognition of significant mental health disturbances in infants and young children. These include mood and anxiety disorders and disorders of feeding, sleep, sensory, attention and behavior regulation. Results of studies suggest prevalence rates of mental health problems in children ages birth through five range from 16 to 21% (Egger & Angold, 2006; Lavigne et al., 1996) and that there are growing numbers of preschoolers who are being expelled from child care settings each year because of serious aggressive behaviors (Gilliam, 2005; Irwin-Vitela, 2010). Of equal concern are the prevalence rates of depression in women during pregnancy and the postpartum period of 10-15% (CDC, 2008) and rates of elevated depressive symptoms among women living in poverty as high as 50% (Chazen-Cohen & Woolverton, 2009).
The field of Infant Mental Health has generated theory, empirical studies, reliable and valid screening and assessment tools for early identification and evaluation, a widely used diagnostic nosology (DC:0-5), evidence based parent-infant and early childhood treatment approaches, and professional practice guidelines (American Academy of Child and Adlescent Psychiatry). Application of Infant Mental Health knowledge and culturally sensitive, relationship-based and reflective practices supports the development of healthy attachment relationships and helps to inoculate parents and young children who have experienced trauma and/or are living in poverty from the impact of toxic stress.
Wisconsin has an imperative need for professionals informed by the field of Infant Mental Health including mental health professionals with specialized training in evaluating and treating mental health disorders of infancy and early childhood. Furthermore, public health, home visiting and early childhood programs are in need of parent-infant and early childhood mental health consultants to support their work with difficult to reach families and young children at-risk. With early consultation, evaluation and intervention, disturbances that emerge early in life can be ameliorated before they become more serious disorders.