Authors: Mats Granlund, Christine Imms, Gillian King, Anna Karin Andersson, Lilly Augustine, Rob Brooks, Henrik Danielsson, Jennifer Gothilander, Magnus Ivarsson, Lars-Olov Lundqvist, Frida Lygnegård and Lena Almqvist


Children with impairments are known to experience more restricted participation than
other children. It also appears that low levels of participation are related to a higher prevalence of mental health problems in children with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD). The purpose of this conceptual paper is to describe and define the constructs mental health problems, mental health, and participation to ensure that future research investigating participation as a means to mental health in children and adolescents with NDD is founded on conceptual clarity. We first discuss the difference between two aspects of mental health problems, namely mental disorder and mental illness. This discussion serves to highlight three areas of conceptual difficulty and their consequences for understanding the mental health of children with NDD that we then consider in the article: (1) how to define mental health problems, (2) how to define and assess mental health problems and mental health, i.e., wellbeing as separate constructs, and (3) how to describe the relationship between participation and wellbeing. We then discuss the implications of our propositions for measurement and the use of participation interventions as a means to enhance mental health (defined as wellbeing).

Conclusions: Mental disorders include both diagnoses related to impairments in the developmental period, i.e., NDD and diagnoses related to mental illness. These two types of mental disorders must be separated. Children with NDD, just like other people, may exhibit aspects of both mental health problems and wellbeing simultaneously. Measures of wellbeing defined as a continuum from flourishing to languishing for children with NDD need to be designed and evaluated. Wellbeing can lead to further participation and act to protect from mental health problems.

This research is financed by: Swedish Research Council