Conference to Address Latest Evidence-Based Treatments for Mental Illness in Children and Adolescents

Very few get treatment whose effectiveness is supported by scientific research

Release Date: June 13, 2003 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Just two years ago, David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., former assistant secretary for health and surgeon general of the United States, said the nation faced a public crisis in mental health care for children and youth.

He pointed out that 1 in 10 American children suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause impairment and, despite assumptions that the medical system cares for these children, that fewer than 20 percent of them -- and an even smaller percentage of children of color -- get the help they need.

These children suffer problems that range from depression and anxiety to attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, substance abuse, bi-polar disorder, childhood schizophrenia, conduct disorders, learning disorders and combinations of these conditions. This may help explain a suicide rate among adolescents that has nearly tripled since 1960, making it one of the three leading causes of death in this age group.

When mentally ill children do receive treatment for their conditions, experts say, it can be ineffective and even damaging if the practitioner is unfamiliar with the latest scientifically proven psychosocial therapies, pharmacotherapies and combined treatments used in clinic, home, school, primary care and residential settings.

To address this problem, the University at Buffalo and McMaster University of Ontario will present the third biennial Niagara Conference on Evidence-Based Treatments for Childhood and Adolescent Mental Health Problems from July 24-26 at the Queen's Landing Inn and Conference Resort, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada.

At the interdisciplinary conference, distinguished international experts in child and adolescent mental health will focus on treatments proven by empirical study to be effective for the treatment of mental health problems in children. Didactic lectures and hands-on experience presented by leading researchers and practitioners in the field will be combined to teach participants the basic principles of a variety of effective treatments and the guidelines for their application.

It will be sponsored by the UB Center for Children and Families; the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at McMaster University and the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, a division of the American Psychological Association.

William E. Pelham, Jr., Ph.D., professor of psychology, pediatrics and psychiatry, director of the UB Center for Children and Families and one of the most eminent researchers in the field of ADHD, is one of the conveners of the conference. He says, "It will offer points of interest to parents, clinical psychologists, educators, family practitioners, primary care physicians, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, school nurses and school psychologists."

Charles S. Cunningham, Ph.D., Jack Laidlaw chair of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at McMaster University, also is coordinating the conference. Cunningham is involved in research on pharmacological and behavioral interventions for children with ADHD and treatment models that increase the availability and cost efficacy of services for families of ADHD children, as well as development and evaluation of large-group, community-based parenting programs and school-based, student-mediated conflict resolution programs.

Pelham points out that children or youth with untreated mental health problems face many and serious problems in their lives.

"They have difficulty in school and in their interactions with others, including parents, teachers, peers and siblings. Their disorders pose serious obstacles to making friends and forming relationships inside and outside of the family," he says.

"In adolescence their problems often worsen," Pelham adds, "because school, family and community have greater expectations of adolescents. They demand more responsibility and independent functioning in them than in children, and these teens are often unable to satisfy those expectations."

"Studies tell us that without effective treatment, many of these children will face serious adversity in adulthood," Pelham says. "Interpersonal problems tend to continue, vocational problems develop and depression occurs along with other mental health problems. Substance abuse and criminality are common."

Although those seeking mental health treatment may find comfort in religio-spiritual, psychic, karmic and other vernacular treatments for mental and emotional illness, Pelham says these treatments are not evidence-based, and largely useless.

"This means that, however effective they may appear based on anecdotal evidence, their efficacy has not been verified and validated by empirical standards of Western medicine," he says, and notes that such treatments comprise 80 percent of what is offered to children and adolescents with mental illness.

"Since these treatments don't work," he says, "it means that the vast majority of children and adolescents in treatment for mental health problems are, ironically, receiving interventions that neither address their current difficulties nor improve their adult outcomes."

At the Niagara Conference, 17 highly respected, much published and award-winning clinical specialists and researchers of the U.S. and Canada will present 29 lectures and workshops.

They will address a variety of issues in child and adolescent mental health treatment, including prospects for lowering the burden of suffering from emotional and behavioral problems in children and adolescents, evidence-based treatments for learning disabilities, ADHD, depression, autism, aggression, anxiety, substance abuse and dependency, and other problems confronted by young people.

Additional information about the presenters and their topics, as well as details about the conference program and registration, can be found at the conference Web site at

The conference will offer continuing education credits for physicians, psychologists, social workers, counselors and educators.

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