Campus & Community

Children’s mental health research initiative created

3 min read

Harvard has launched a new research project on mental health in children and youth focused on the impact of early social experiences and on the prevention of addictions in teens, Provost Steven E. Hyman announced.

The project, which complements existing Harvard efforts focused on the mental health of children and youth, teams faculty from the Graduate School of Education (GSE), the Harvard Medical School (HMS), and the teaching hospitals. It underscores the University’s commitment to meeting critical social, educational, and health needs of children around the world through research, policy, and education.

“There’s so much we don’t know about child and adolescent mental health; the need for new knowledge – usable knowledge – is enormous,” Hyman said. “This project will complement Harvard’s already strong resources in this field. I’m enormously grateful to Professor Judy Palfrey who has laid a strong foundation for this project through her leadership of the Harvard Children’s Initiative.”

The Children’s Initiative is an interfaculty research program that has been in operation for 10 years. The mental health project will in part replace the initiative, as a review last spring concluded that research on children and youth would be well served by a focused investment in specific projects that build upon the initiative’s earlier broader approach.

The review highlighted the initiative’s successful activities, including, most recently, the Kagan research awards for undergraduates and a collaboration with the Cambridge Health Alliance in the area of adolescent mental health. It also noted Harvard’s strengths in the area of children’s research – especially at the Graduate School of Education and the School of Public Health, which are launching a joint faculty seminar on evaluating programs for children next year.

The Children’s Initiative review recommended that the University’s next step in the area be the investment in research on child mental health issues. This would build upon the critical mass of faculty members with common interests that had already begun to coalesce around mental health issues.

Planning for the new mental health project will be under way this fall. Robert Selman of the Graduate School of Education, along with Allan Brandt (Faculty of Arts and Sciences/HMS), William Beardslee (Children’s Hospital), and Judith Palfrey (Children’s Hospital) will be the project’s principal investigators.

“The study of factors that promote mental health in youth, as well as those that protect them against mental illness, stands at the crossroads of many disciplines, including education, child psychiatry, and public health,” Selman said. “Our interdisciplinary working group has begun to develop a plan to understand these factors better – with an initial focus on children growing up with high levels of adversity.”

The Children’s Initiative will complete its activities on Jan. 1, 2004, when the new mental health project is slated to open officially. The initiative will transfer some of its other projects and activities to other parts of the University.

The mental health project will be funded in part by the Provost’s Office with a seed grant and in part by external grantors. It will be managed in the relevant schools and institutions, rather than by the central administration.