Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health

‍‍‍The Pause.Moments Matter in the Life of a Child campaign was developed to raise awareness about the importance of infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH). Everyone can take action to promote and protect infant and early childhood mental health where we live, work and play. Check out the information to learn what you can do to support and model positive mental health for infants and young children.  

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Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health

Infants and young children have mental health. It is the developing capacity of the child from birth to six years of age to form close and secure adult and peer relationships, experience, manage and express a full range of emotions, and explore the environment and learn - all in the context of family, community and culture 1. It is comprised of multiple interrelated components.

It is also important to recognize that brain development begins in pregnancy. Therefore, the prenatal period must also be considered in relation to infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH).  

Perinatal mental health: refers to the mental health of the mother pre pregnancy, during pregnancy, and in the postpartum period 2.

Parental mental health: is more than the absence of a mental health condition or illness; it refers to striking a balance in all aspects of the caregiver's life: socially, physically, spiritually, economically and mentally3.

Brain development: Brain Development begins in pregnancy and undergoes its most rapid period of growth during the first 2000 days - It is the most important time of brain growth4.

Attachment: Is a deep and lasting connection babies form with their caregivers. Babies need to feel safe, cared for, and protected. When caregivers respond consistently in a manner that is warm and sensitive a secure attachment develops. A secure attachment is foundational to positive developmental outcomes and future relationships with peers and partners5.

Temperament: Is a set of personality traits that people are born with. A child's temperament can shape their outcomes and influence how others respond to them5.

Self-regulation: Refers to how efficiently and effectively children deal with stressors and then recover from them 6.

Resiliency: Develops over time and is the ability to bounce back from adversity in a positive way5.

Sense of agency: Is the child's ability to make choices and decisions that have an influence in their environment. It is linked to having a sense of control over matters that affect them7.

Mental illness and poor mental health is a problem... 

In Ottawa

  • Since 2010, mental health emergency visits at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario have increased by 75% 8.
  • In the last year, 45% of children who accessed Crossroads Children's Centre walk-in clinic were under the age of 6. In their intensive home based program, supporting families with severe challenges, 30% of the children are also under the age of 6 9.
  • In 2015-16, 17% of children under the age of 6, who accessed Centre Psychosocial, were referred to the early screening program. 50% of these children were referred to other agencies for specialized developmental assessments or services 10.
  • Based on Early Development Instrument (EDI) data, one in four (26%) children are vulnerable in one or more areas of their development as they enter school 11.
  • One in eight (12%) of grade 7-12 students had seriously considered suicide in 2013 12.

In Canada

  • 70% of mental health problems start during childhood or adolescence 13.
  • The disease burden of mental illness and addiction in Ontario is 1.5 times higher than all cancers put together and more than 7 times that of all infectious diseases 13.

Poor mental health also costs our economy...

  • In Ontario the annual cost of alcohol-related health care, law enforcement, corrections, lost productivity, and other problems is estimated to be at least $5 billion 13.
  • In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems 13.
  • The economic burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated at $51 billion per year. This includes health care costs, lost productivity, and reductions in health-related quality of life 13.

The evidence is clear that prevention and early intervention are important 1...

  • Economists have shown that high-quality early childhood programs bring impressive returns on investment to the public. Studies found a range $4 to $9 return on investment for every dollar invested in early learning programs for low-income children 14.
  • Early interventions such as parenting programs have a higher economic rate of return to society than interventions offered later in life such as remedial education, prisoner rehabilitation, and public job training programs 15.

Don't wait. Starting early can change the trajectory of a child's mental health.

  • From conception to age 6 is the most influential time in brain development. Early experiences especially in the first 2000 days 4 can have an effect on the wiring and sculpting of the brain that can influence a child's learning, behaviour and health for a lifetime 16.
  • The developing brain makes 1 million new brain connections every second 14.

As a community... Let's talk about infant and early childhood mental health!

Where do we go from here 1...

  • Adopt and promote the common definition of infant and early child mental health across all sectors.
  • Invest in training the infant and early childhood mental health workforce, recognizing the many roles and sectors with a direct stake in infant and early childhood mental health.
  • Ensure the provision of infant and early childhood mental health promotion, prevention and intervention in all service areas.
  • Engage families and caregivers together with service providers in developing and implementing infant and early childhood mental health policy and system planning.
  • Strengthen data collection, monitoring and research on infant and early childhood mental health and improve communication among ministries.


For more information on the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Initiative in Ottawa or a complete reference list, please contact:

Marisa Moher, Steering Committee (Secretariat)


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