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Minnesota Thrive Initiative: Team focuses on preschool children's mental health

Early childhood social and emotional health can affect children their whole lives.

This understanding has led about 20 professionals from the fields of health care, education, human services and nonprofits to collaborate in the Minnesota Thrive Initiative under the leadership of Jean Christensen, psychologist with Great River Psychological Services and Thrive Action Team manager.

"Thrive is really all about children's mental health birth-to-3," Christensen said. "You think of babies as not having mental health problems - babies are so pristine at their beginning."

However, she said, research has shown that conditions such as deprivation and depression can be diagnosed. If untreated, these issues can cause IQ decline and interfere with healthy social and emotional development.

"We are trying to do things now that impact the quality of life for young families," Christensen said. "In the last five years, I've learned more about this that in my entire (30-year) career."

One of the educational aspects of the project is Lakeland Prime aired on Lakeland Public Television's main channel at 1 and 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Christensen said Thrive is also working with physicians at Sanford Bemidji Clinic. When new mothers come in for a well baby checkup, she can fill out a screening program to gauge the level of development the baby should be showing at various ages. If development isn't progressing as the pediatrician judges normal, an intervention before age 3 can prevent lifelong mental illness, she said.

"Parents are our greatest partners," Christensen said. "Everyone is invited to participate. We're really looking at doing a better job with kids."