Fostering mental, emotional and behavioral health in children and youth via integrative healthcare

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a branch of the National Institutes for Health has set 2019 guidelines to foster mental, emotional and behavioral health in children and youth. Current research shows mental, emotional and behavioral (MEB) development forms a critical foundation for a productive adulthood. A growing body of research has significantly strengthened the understanding of child and youth needs to better thrive and support healthy communities. Findings are supported by data showing what happens when these childhood risk factors are not mitigated in early life, increasing rates of depression, suicide, substance abuse, self-harm and ultimately societal harm. Further, interactions with local groups may build mutual referrals and increase your community’s overall MEB health. Complex neurobiological processes interact with physical and social environment from conception through childhood and beyond adolescence.

The following items are found to modulate gene expression and shape neurodevelopment:

  • Environment
  • Physical, social and other experiences that affect conception, gestation and childbirth
  • Characteristics of family, surrounding community, parental influence, peer behavior
  • Sleep, nutrition and physical activity
  • Characteristics of broader society such as family, community situations, poverty, economic inequality, systemic racism, discrimination, incarceration etc.

As well as direct patient and parental contact during office visit interactions, integrative healthcare providers can link with schools, local agencies, and more to deliver educational information. Providers may choose to introduce classes for youth, parents or agencies, that include:

  • Mind-body awareness activities to assist with anger management, anxiety, fear and other issues
  • Guided visualization techniques
  • Yoga-like stretch programs
  • Proper breathing to assist with sympathetic nervous system control
  • Healthy diet lectures
  • Education on avoidance of harmful substances such as alcohol, tobacco or marijuana
  • Physical activities promoting healthier bodies while assisting family togetherness and interaction

Integrative medicine practitioners may find ways to integrate these plans into private practice for the good of patients and society at large. For more information providers may download a free book with promotion and prevention strategies published by The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine at https://www.nap.edu/read/25201/chapter/2#3