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Vital for Australia to invest in mental health from birth to 12 years

27 Feb 2018
The National Mental Health Commission has called for more investment in mental health for children from birth to 12 years after new data yesterday revealed Australia is behind other countries.

The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) report shows increased levels of high or very high psychological distress amongst 18-24 year olds and suicide rates amongst 15-25 year olds.

The Commission’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr Peggy Brown AO said child and youth mental health must be a national priority for the wellbeing and future outcomes of children, adolescents and young adults, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“There’s overwhelming evidence about the lifetime benefits of investing in prevention and early intervention from birth to 12 years,” Dr Brown said.

“Although we’ve seen significant and vital investment in adolescent mental health through headspace, corresponding investment for children is slower. Only recently, funding was announced for a new integrated school-based Mental Health in Education initiative for Australian children from early learning centres to the end of secondary school.

“Many issues which go on to develop into mental health problems in adolescence can be identified, prevented and managed if picked up earlier in childhood,” she said.

Dr Brown recommended links with maternal and child health services as fundamental to an integrated approach.

“The national approach needed is for better coordination and integration of services among different siloed providers to enable a healthy start to life for children. For example, Primary Health Networks and local communities could scope the development of local ‘childspaces’, or children’s wellbeing centres for vulnerable children, not as separate services but to be integrated into early childhood and other services.”

Dr Brown said it is essential to build resilience and targeted interventions for families with children, both collectively and with those with emerging behavioural issues, distress and mental health difficulties.

“We know that 75 per cent of all cases of mental illness will occur by the time Australians reach 25 years old. When you’re young, the onset of mental illness disrupts every facet of your life – school, family, social life and job prospects – and your future potential,” she said.

“There’s an estimated 560,000 Australian children and adolescents (4-17 years old) in Australia who have a clinically significant mental health problem and many of them are at increased risk for suicidal behaviour.

“Mental ill-health starts even younger. Experiences during the early years, including in utero, have lifelong effects on children’s later achievements, social adjustment, mental and physical health and life expectancy.”