What Does a Mental Health Vision Look Like?
A program-wide vision of mental health services provides a common understanding of the program's definition of mental health, the general approach to mental health, the roles of staff, consultants, and administrators in implementing a mental health perspective, and the goals and desired outcomes of mental health services that is shared throughout the organization.
A program-wide vision of mental health includes:
- A common understanding of "mental health": A common understanding of the term "mental health" is an important aspect of having a shared vision of services. Because of the stigma associated with the term mental health, and cultural differences in how mental health is conceptualized, it is essential that Head Start administrators work closely with families, staff, and communities to develop a common understanding of child and adult mental health that takes into account cultural and linguistic viewpoints. Programs without a shared vision may use a variety of terms, including "mental health" (behavioral health, social-emotional health, emotional well-being, or social competence to name a few) without ever coming to consensus about what is meant by these terms. Regardless of the term used, it is important that there is a shared definition, and that this definition reflect a prevention-oriented, holistic, wellness-focused approach. Further, it is important to recognize that mental health develops in infancy and continues to impact well-being throughout the lifespan.
Zero to Three has developed a working definition of early childhood mental health that can be used as a beginning point for developing a common understanding of the term "mental health". According to Zero to Three (2001), early childhood mental health refers to "a young child's (birth to five years) ability to: experience, control, and express emotion; form close and secure personal relationships; and explore their environment," which all occurs within the many different systems that children experience, such as families, Head Start classrooms, neighborhoods, etc.
- Effective, integrated mental health consultation: A key component of a mental health vision is the vision for mental health consultation. Mental Health Consultants should partner with programs to support the overall mental health vision. However, it is important to remember that consultation is necessary, but not sufficient for good mental health outcomes. A vision for how to integrate the consultant into the program as someone who partners with staff and families is an important part of the mental health vision.
- A holistic approach to mental health: A holistic approach to mental health in Head Start and Early Head Start incorporates a mental health perspective into all aspects of the program, including education, health, nutrition, disability and social services, as well as staff wellness. Through this holistic approach, positive mental health for young children and their families does not occur in isolation from the child and family's physical, emotional, social, cognitive, occupational, and spiritual well-being (Hansen, 1990). In addition, staff wellness is an essential component for supporting the mental health of children and families. Again, it is important to see how the mental health consultant supports this holistic approach, and not to view consultants as "the" person working on mental health.
- Clear roles for families, staff, consultants, administrators: The program-wide vision of mental health must include clearly articulated roles for how families, staff, and administrators contribute to supporting the mental health perspective within the program. In developing the vision for mental health services, the director can help the program articulate the roles and responsibilities of families, staff, administrators and mental health consultants. Clearly articulated roles will help to ensure that vision is implemented across program components. An underlying message in the program's vision should be that "Mental Health is Everybody's Business".
- Goals and outcomes of the mental health approach: Defining program goals and outcomes is a key component of a program-wide shared vision of mental health. A shared vision that includes clearly articulated goals and outcomes provides a roadmap for families, staff, and administrators to understand how children, families, staff, and the program will benefit from the mental health services. In Module 2, administrators will gain knowledge about developing goals and outcomes.
- A shared vision: The vision for mental health services within a Head Start / Early Head Start program should be a shared vision that is developed and agreed upon by families, staff, and administrators. Because of staff and consultant turnover, training of program staff and mental health consultants is key to maintaining a shared vision of mental health across time. Administrators should keep in mind that because of their differing perspectives, administrator and staff perceptions may diverge. Therefore, administrators should include program staff and families in developing the program-wide vision of mental health. A few indicators that a program has a shared vision of mental health include:
- A written mission or vision statement for mental health services;
- A written explanation of the philosophy or theoretical approach to mental health consultation;
- Program staff or family members who use phrases from mission statement often; and
- Program staff and families who are able to describe the program's approach to mental health in ways that are similar to each other.