Poor mental health in childhood impacts on later life
A 2020 report by the Australian Institute on Health and Welfare (AIHW) titled Australia’s Children, found that poor mental health directly impacts young people’s future ability to live fulfilling and productive lives.
“There is strong evidence that mental disorders in childhood and adolescence predict mental illness in adulthood,” the report states.
The report recommends children have loving, responsive and stable relationships with a caring adult to help build secure attachments, which is at the core for healthy social and emotional development.
It also concludes that, “childhood presents the greatest opportunity for intervention”.
Funded by the Australian Government, Be You launched in 2018 to provide an end-to-end approach to mental health and wellbeing across the educational stages, from early learning services to primary school to secondary school.
“Be You supports early learning services and schools to develop a positive, inclusive and resilient learning community where every child, young person, educator and family can achieve their best possible mental health,” says Ms O’Brien.
The initiative provides educators with knowledge, resources and strategies for helping children and young people understand mental health.
It highlights that early experiences shape children’s development and can have a lasting effect on their mental health and wellbeing.
While families are the first, and often most important influence on a child’s development, the initiative emphasises that educators play a very important role in supporting positive child development.
It is delivered by Beyond Blue, in collaboration with Early Childhood Australia and headspace.
“Parents can encourage their early learning service or school to register for free with Be You, so their child’s educators can receive the best possible information about supporting the mental health and wellbeing of the learning community,” says Ms O’Brien.
“While Be You was created for educators, information is available for parents and carers on Beyond Blue’s Healthy Families website,” she adds.
The state of our children’s mental health
“Most data, in terms of prevalence of mental health conditions, relates to children over the age of six, with the AIHW reporting no significant change between 1998 and 2013-14 for those aged between six and 17 years,” explains Ms O’Brien.
In Australia’s Children, AIHW found that in 2013-14, an estimated 314,000 children aged four to 11 years old experience a mental disorder, with boys more commonly affected than girls.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was the most common disorder for children at 8.2 per cent, and more common in boys.
Anxiety disorders were the second most common at 6.9 per cent, but most common among girls.
Worryingly, children aged four to 11 years old who had a major depressive order missed out on 14 days of the school year due to their symptoms.
This was more than twice as high than children with anxiety disorders, who missed out on six.
Finally, students with mental disorders were more likely to have lower NAPLAN test scores.