Mental health in early childhood (from birth to primary school age) deserves far more attention, according to the Centre for Community Child Health (CCCH) at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.
Melissa Sweet of Croakey, the forum for discussion about health issues and policy on Crikey, summarised the views of the CCCH well:
Australia has seen significantly increased awareness of mental illness and a major increase in funding available to try to address the issue. However, mental health in early childhood – that is from birth to primary school age – remains a poor cousin to adult and youth mental health.
The focus for attention and funding is primarily on 12-25 year olds and disadvantaged groups – only a tiny fraction of the available mental health funding in Australia is devoted to 0-12 year olds. The next step is to focus on mental illness prevention and mental health promotion from very early childhood; many of the mental health problems encountered in adolescence and adulthood have their origins in early childhood.
The definition of mental health problems in early childhood is complex, but for the purposes of this Policy Brief it includes a range of social, emotional and behavioural concerns.
Why is this issue important?
- There are significant social, emotional and financial costs associated with mental health problems.
- The number of children with mental health problems is increasing.
- Around half of all childhood mental health problems will persist.
- The current service system is unable to respond effectively to the needs of children and their families.
What are the implications of the research?
- Pathways to poor mental health often start early in life – well before the age of 12 years.
- Many parents need support and assistance to give their children the best possible start in life. Parenting practices are a known influence on children’s mental health.
- Community acceptance and understanding of the existence of mental health concerns in childhood is poor.
- Preventive programs that support parents to parent well may be the most effective option to facilitate good mental health in children.
- There are significant barriers to children accessing either preventive programs or treatment which need to be addressed.
- It is more cost effective to intervene early when mental health concerns are first identified.
If you’re interested in mental health in children and young people - and we all should be! - the information from the CCCH is well worth the read. You can continue reading this article here.