SNF’s Health Initiative Will Support Child and Adolescent Mental Health

ATHENS – When we think about childhood injuries, we usually think of scratches, a few stitches, maybe even a broken bone. We don’t talk frequently enough about the traumatic stress and other mental health challenges young people experience that can affect them for the rest of their lives.

Significant shortcomings are apparent worldwide in mental health care systems in general, but for children and adolescents in particular. Data from studies in several countries (Costello et al., 2014; Fatori et al., 2019) show that only one out of five children with a mental health condition is receiving professional help.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) is supporting the development of a new child mental health program in Greece over five years, with a total budget of $15 million. Our intent is to help address these troubling trends in access to care, to contribute to the strength of the mental health system, to empower frontline healthcare professionals and, by extension, to help young people and their families manage their mental health in a timely and appropriate manner.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses not only of national health systems, but also of mental health care infrastructure,” said SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos. “However, it also brought about one—perhaps the only—positive change: it helped fight the stigma that accompanies mental illness. All of us at SNF are here to support, to the best of our ability, the work of mental health professionals specializing in child and adolescent care and to help improve young people’s access to mental health services, regardless of where they live or their financial status. Mental health services should not be a luxury or a privilege reserved for only a few, but a given for anyone who needs them, starting in childhood.”

The new program is part of SNF’s more than $500 million Health Initiative to enhance the health sector in Greece. The program comprises three main pillars:

  1. The design and implementation of educational programs for professionals specializing in mental health and psychosocial support for children and adolescents
  2. The establishment of a Network for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, with local hubs in areas such as Alexandroupoli, Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Athens, and Crete
  3. The development of new technologies and digital tools for both clinical and research purposes, as well as of online resources for the wider community.

To implement the program, with the support of the Greek Ministry of Health, we are collaborating with the US-based Child Mind Institute while simultaneously establishing new partnerships and synergies with hospitals, institutions, and mental health professionals across Greece. The aim is to combine local and international expertise to enhance care, in response to real needs and always in the best interests of children. Special emphasis will be placed on areas outside Athens where high need has been identified, and on remote areas with limited access to mental health services.

The Network’s hub planned for Thessaloniki will be housed in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit of the new SNF University Pediatric Hospital of Thessaloniki, which is under construction and is expected to be completed and delivered to the public in 2025.

Mental health matters for all of us, and together we will find ways to ensure that everyone can give it the attention it deserves.

Costello, E. J., He, J., Sampson, N. A., Kessler, R. C., & Merikangas, K. R. (2014). “Services for adolescent psychiatric disorders: 12-month data from the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent.” Psychiatric Services, 65, 359-366.

Fatori, D., Salum, G.A., Rohde, L.A., Pan, P.M., Bressan, R., Evans-Lacko, S., Polanczyk, G., Miguel, E.C., Graeff-Martins, A.S. (2019). “Use of mental health services by children with mental disorders in two major cities in Brazil.” Psychiatric Services. https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ps.201800389

Read an opinion piece coauthored by SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos and Founding President and Medical Director of the Child Mind Institute Harold S. Koplewicz, MD: “We have good tools to address the pandemic in youth mental health. Let’s use them.”


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