Ads and toolkits help make mental health easier to talk about

Boston – The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), in partnership with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Health has launched a new awareness and education campaign to promote healthy emotional development for young children.  A series of recent transit advertisements feature children of different ages getting routine medical check-ups with messages directed at parents such as, “Checking in on her emotions is just as important as checking her heartbeat.”  The posters, on display for the past month at dozens of MBTA bus stops around the city, represented the first phase of an ongoing campaign, which was timed to get the attention of parents during back-to-school season.

The second phase of the effort, set to roll out in the next week, includes toolkits that BPHC created and will distribute to pediatric providers in all 23 community health centers in Boston.  In addition to posters in multiple languages that reinforce the campaign’s message, the kits contain flashcards intended for parents of children up to age eight.  Designed with a child-friendly look and feel, the flashcards ask simple questions to help parents start the conversation about childhood social and emotional development with their pediatrician.  They address common issues, such as crying, sharing, talking, eating, and sleeping, and provide straightforward tips that parents and caregivers can keep in mind to promote a child’s healthy social and emotional development.

“A pediatrician is one of the most trusted sources of support in a child’s life, so it’s only natural that we partner with our great network of providers,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director of BPHC.  “Boston is a very diverse city with lots of young parents, so our message is simple.  There’s no shame in talking about emotional health.  It’s such an important part of everyone’s overall health, and there are lots of simple things that we as parents can do to raise happy, healthy children from day one.”

The colorful, eye-catching posters and flashcards aim to make talking about mental health, a subject that many people find uncomfortable, friendlier.  Unlike keeping track of routine physicals and vaccinations, parents and caregivers do not always know how to approach the topic of mental health with their child’s providers.  The campaign’s creators hope that the new resources offer an easy way for more parents to start talking to pediatricians about emotional health by using topics that every parent can relate to.

“When we invest in a child’s health, it pays great dividends in the future,” said Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz. “We know that a child’s emotional well-being is integral to their overall physical health. That’s why we launched this public service campaign in partnership with the Boston Public Health Commission to encourage parents to talk with their pediatricians about their child’s emotional health.”

Supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) MYCHILD and Project LAUNCH grants, the citywide awareness campaign is part of a larger early childhood mental health partnership that aims to educate people about the importance of mental health and to encourage parents to talk regularly with their pediatrician about it.

At seven community health centers in Boston, the Mass-Boston Partnership for Early Childhood Mental Health has established teams of early childhood mental health clinicians and family partners that have lived experience in caring for children with special needs.  These teams consult with pediatricians and connect families of young children to prevention and intervention services.  The goal of the integrated medical home model is to use the all-important relationship a family has with a pediatric provider as an opportunity to detect early childhood risks and concerns well before more difficult challenges arise.

The seven sites with clinician-family partner teams are: The Bowdoin Street Community Health Center, Joseph M. Smith Community Health Center, Dorchester House Multi-Service Center, Martha Eliot Health Center, Codman Square Community Health Center, Boston Medical Center, and Boston Health Care for the Homeless.

To learn more about the early childhood mental health partnership and to access materials from the new awareness campaign, visit