Infant mental health

The most important developmental phase in the life of every person is as a foetus in the womb and during the first years of life. Development occurs at a fast pace during these years and the environment has a clear impact on the further development of the young child. These years can have a major impact on the child, in both positive and negative terms, and play a role in the development of psychopathology. 

Mental healthcare provided to young children focuses on caring for children who are strongly suspected of developing psychopathology and the children’s parents, starting with the pregnancy (-9 months) and the first years of life (ages 0-6). This care is aimed at fostering the development of the young child in all of its facets, in part through strengthening the parent-child relationship. 

Providing specialist care to young children and their parents is still a young field within mental healthcare. For a long time, it was thought that young children could not have psychological problems or be susceptible to stress or other environmental factors. Early developmental delays and psychopathology were frequently undiagnosed based on the notion that young children do not require specialist care or that it is too early to draw conclusions and seek assistance. Nowadays, however, we know better. Care for young children can address a broad range of psychopathology. Accordingly, increasingly more attention is being paid to psychopathology in young children, particularly within the research field of ASD, as well as that of ADHD and (gradually) externalising and internalising disorders. The development of young children is highly dependent on the biological predisposition to psychopathology, while at the same time it is also influenced by the quality of the parent-child relationship and the environment in which the child grows up. The latter can act as key stimulators or stressors in the development of the young child. Early experiences have a large degree of influence on the child’s development. It is therefore very important that problems be detected and properly addressed in time to ensure the speedy provision of targeted care. 

By means of this theme, we hope to provide a clear overview of the developments in the area of care for young children and the scientifically substantiated elements in diagnostics and treatment. The focus is on the young child, from conception (i.e. a minimum age of -9 months) up to around the age of 6.

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